ACLU of Texas and ACLJ Urge State Supreme Court to Enforce Religious Freedom Act
Groups Join Forces in Brief Filed on Behalf of Local Pastor
AUSTIN, TX - The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the American Center for Law and Justice today filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief in support of Pastor Rick Barr and Philemon Homes, Inc. urging the state supreme court to reverse a lower court decision upholding an ordinance that forbids correctional or rehabilitation facilities within 1,000 feet of a church.
"The ordinance violates Texas's Religious Freedom Restoration Act," said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas, explaining that the law was designed to prevent state and local government officials from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion, including religious practices and religiously motivated conduct, without a compelling justification for doing so.
"Although the city contends that this restriction is just a generally applicable zoning ordinance, the record shows that the only effect of the ordinance was on Philemon Homes."
The Philemon Homes is a nonprofit, faith-based facility designed to house and help rehabilitate low-level offenders who have been released from state custody. The facility is operated by Pastor Barr in two houses located across the street from Grace Christian Fellowship in Sinton, where he presides.
Seven months after the Homes began operating in 1998, Sinton enacted an ordinance specifically directed at Pastor Barr and the Homes, forbidding the operation of a correctional or rehabilitation facility within 1,000 feet of a church - in this case, Pastor Barr's own church.
"The city's ordinance puts an unfair burden on Pastor Barr's free exercise of religion by forcing him to either permanently shut down Philemon Homes or relocate beyond city limits," said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ. "The city's ordinance also turns the Texas RFRA on its head - a statute that the Texas legislature intended to provide broad protection for the free exercise of religion by limiting the authority of state and local government officials to apply laws and ordinances in a way that substantially burdens religiously motivated conduct. We're hopeful the Supreme Court of Texas will correct this injustice."
"We're pleased that the ACLU and the ACLJ were able to join together in this effort to defend religious freedom in Texas," Sekulow said.
Graybill added: "We're proud to stand with the ACLJ and Pastor Barr in urging the Texas Supreme Court to uphold the intent of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."
The ACLU/ACLJ brief is online at: www.aclutx.org/files/Barr%20v.%20City%20of%20Sinton,%20No.%2006-0074,%20Amicus%20Brief,%20Office%20Word%202003.pdf