Alliance Defense Fund attorneys secured a settlement Tuesday with the village of Fife Lake on behalf of Forest Area Bible Church, which will no longer be forced to pay discriminatory rental fees to use the village’s municipal building. As a result of a lawsuit filed by ADF attorneys in March, the church will also be reimbursed for past fees it had to pay--fees that were not charged to similar non-religious organizations that enjoyed free access to the facility.
"Churches shouldn’t be targeted for discriminatory rental fees by local governments just because they are religious," said ADF Legal Counsel Tim Chandler. "We are pleased that Fife Lake has agreed to give the church the same kind of access it grants to other local community groups."
When the Village of Fife Lake Council opened its municipal building for rent to any private group or individual, the village’s fee schedule forced churches and religious organizations to pay for access to the facility. At the same time, the village granted free use of the space to other community groups, such as the American Legion, Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, and the Boy and Girl Scouts of America.
After paying rental fees for approximately 18 months, two rental rate increases forced the church to stop meeting because of the financial burden and a lack of alternative facilities.
Under the settlement, the village has amended its fee schedule so that churches have the same access to its facilities as all other non-profit organizations. In addition, the village will reimburse all of the rental money it collected from the church, will offer the church a discounted rental rate through April 2010, and will pay the church's litigation costs incurred in the lawsuit.
The consent judgment in Forest Area Bible Church v. Fife Lake Village Council was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division.
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