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Martin v. Houston

Last Update: June 18, 2018

What's at Stake

In September 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Alabama filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a pastor whose right to religious exercise was violated by a new Alabama law that targeted him personally and directly, and prevented him from pursuing his ministry and practicing his deeply held religious beliefs.

For more than three years, Pastor Ricky Martin, who believes it is his Christian duty to help those in need, allowed registered sex offenders recently released from prison to live in trailers behind his church. Despite the absence of any evidence that this arrangement posed any danger to the public, the state legislature enacted a law forbidding property owners in the pastor’s county from housing more than one registered offender on a single piece of land.

We filed suit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), arguing that the law unjustifiably burdened Martin’s free-exercise rights. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama twice denied the county’s attempts to dismiss the case. In August 2016, the Alabama legislature repealed the law targeting Pastor Martin. The court then dismissed the case as moot but refused to vacate its prior opinions in our client’s favor in case the legislature tries to target Pastor Martin again.

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