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« on: November 06, 2004, 04:12:58 PM »

PJI Defends Sacramento Church Against City's Harassment

by Mary Rettig
November 5, 2004

(AgapePress) - A group of Russian immigrants in California are fighting their local government's hostile effort to keep them from filling their church pews.

The immigrants who make up the congregation of the Independent Baptist Church of Sacramento fled Russia to escape communist oppression. But now, they have had to seek legal assistance from the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) in order to avoid what many see as another kind of oppression -- the tyranny of municipal bureaucracy.

Brad Dacus of PJI is representing the Independent Baptist Church. He says the church's building can hold 500 people, but the city of Sacramento will only allow the congregation to have 120 -- the capacity of the church parking lot.

"The church came back and said, 'Well, fine -- we'll go ahead and expand our parking spaces,'" Dacus says. However, the city was unwilling to give the church a permit for that. So, he goes on to explain, the church responded very reasonably, saying, "OK fine; we'll use a shuttle system and shuttle people in."

However, the attorney explains, the City of Sacramento said no once again, telling the church members, "We're not going to let you do that." Dacus is outraged by the way the city has strung this Christian body along and asks, "Is America no longer the land of religious freedom these immigrants thought they were coming to?

According to the lawyer, the city's actions are a clear violation of religious land use laws and an infringement on Independent Baptist's First Amendment rights. He says the Independent Baptist Church case is not the first of its kind, but is in fact a classic example of California's almost open hostility to churches.

"In an attempt to meet the City's requirements," Dacus notes, "this church has literally been torn in two. Two separate congregations must meet in different locations with different pastors. Those members who are unable to worship in the church building have been forced to cram together into a small garage, and many smaller children must stay home altogether and not worship with their parents."

But the church's legal spokesman says despite this unfair treatment, the members refused to back down. After meeting with PJI's attorneys, he says the Independent Baptist Church commendably chose not to go "underground," as they might have done in Russia, but instead to fight for their rights by filing a federal lawsuit challenging the City of Sacramento's decision.

Pacific Justice Institute is determined to see that the constitutional and legal rights of the church members are protected. Dacus says PJI welcomes this opportunity to set a valuable precedent for other churches facing similar struggles over land use issues.


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