The Texas Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of a ministry to former prison inmates Friday, determining that zoning regulations passed by the city of Sinton to oust the ministry from town violate the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Alliance Defense Fund ally Liberty Legal Institute represented the ministry in the case. ADF provided funding assistance for the appeal to the high court.
"Religious ministries should not be singled out for discrimination by a city’s zoning restrictions," said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel of Liberty Legal Institute and an ADF-allied attorney. "The Texas RFRA is a reflection of the strong belief in religious freedom shared by almost all Americans. The Texas Supreme Court has upheld and respected the will of the people and rejected the city’s attempt to circumvent the law."
Pastor Rick Barr sought legal recourse after the city of Sinton passed zoning laws that effectively banned Philemon Homes, the ministry he heads, from the city. The ministry’s purpose is to assist and restore non-violent criminals upon release from prison. The trial court and Texas Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city, finding the Texas RFRA did not protect the pastor and church ministry, but the Texas Supreme Court disagreed.
"Although the government’s interest in the public welfare in general, and in preserving a common character of land areas and use in particular, is certainly legitimate when properly motivated and appropriately directed, the assertion that zoning ordinances are per se superior to fundamental, constitutional rights, such as the free exercise of religion, must fairly be regarded as indefensible," the court wrote.
"This was an important case for religious freedom that could have ramifications beyond just the immediate circumstances. ADF was pleased to assist with funding to make sure the ministry’s cause would be heard before the Texas Supreme Court," said ADF Senior Counsel Glen Lavy.
Liberty Legal Institute and Texas Solicitor General James Ho argued before the Texas Supreme Court in March 2007 on behalf of Barr and Philemon Homes in the case, Barr v. City of Sinton.
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