Mississippi Church Fighting Zoning Ordinance in Federal Appeals Court
A small church in Mississippi is fighting a local zoning ordinance that prohibits churches from leasing space in the town square.
Last year, officials in Holly Springs, Mississippi denied the request of Pastor Telsa DeBerry to utilize a building in the town square for his small eighteen-member congregation, known as Opulent Life Church. They reportedly told DeBerry that they wanted to keep the area zoned as a business district and that he subsequently needed to look elsewhere. Mayor Andre DeBerry, the pastor’s uncle, agreed.
The church then filed suit in federal court, but this past January, the district judge sided with the town by denying a preliminary injunction.
Now, Pastor DeBerry has appealed to the Fifth Circuit. Both sides presented oral argument on Wednesday.
“When the almighty dollar prevails, evil is part of that,” DeBerry told Fox News. “They’re looking at their tax base. A church doesn’t bring in taxes.”
“It’s surprising to see a city so hostile to seeing a church on the town square,” commented Hiram Sasser of the Liberty Institute, which is representing the church. “You think of the town square as the apex of constitutionally protected activity, and for a church to be excluded simply because it’s a church is mind-boggling.”
He explained that the town recently changed its ordinance after conceding that it was problematic, but the revision still bans churches from the town square. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals may now consider whether the current ordinance is unconstitutional.
“We will continue to defend the religious liberty rights of Opulent Life Church against the City of Holly Springs’ new ordinance that is as discriminatory as, if not worse than, the original ordinance,” Sasser said. “Churches should be able to grow and expand free from discrimination. Placing special burdens on them is unfair, unconstitutional and illegal.”