Christian Group Sues over Facility-Use Fee; Kern County Lets Others Use It Free

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 17, 2003 | Go to article overview

Christian Group Sues over Facility-Use Fee; Kern County Lets Others Use It Free


Byline: Joyce Howard Price, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A religious discrimination suit has been filed against a California county after it charged a Christian church an hourly fee for using a public building that other community groups can use free.

The American Center for Law and Justice filed the federal suit against Kern County, Calif., on behalf of New Life Assembly, a church in the central California town of Delano.

Kern County assessed the church $621 to use the county-owned Delano Veterans of Foreign Wars Center for a three-day event last November. Nearly two-thirds of that amount ($450) was charged specifically because of the religious nature of the event.

The lawsuit says New Life Assembly and its minister, Pastor Ray G. Mejia, reserved the center "for a series of meetings as a means to fulfill their Christian responsibilities to educate the public about the life-changing message of the Christian faith, to discuss how the gospel can deal with the issues of stress, drug addiction, life's struggles, family problems, needs of the community, and the like."

The meetings were free and open to anyone. They were held "both as a requirement of their Christian faith and as a service to the community," the lawsuit says.

"The county has no business penalizing a religious organization by imposing a usage fee because the content of the group's event is religious in nature," said Stuart J. Roth, senior counsel of ACLJ, a public-interest law firm in Virginia Beach that specializes in cases involving infringement of religious freedom.

Mr. Roth added: "The policy in place only points to one conclusion: The county discriminates against religious organizations. ... They seem to think they can get away with taxing religious usage."

The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Fresno, contends that the county's policy violates the first and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. It asks the court to declare the policy invalid and unconstitutional and to grant injunctive relief "to ensure that the discriminatory policy does not continue to be applied."

Named as defendants in the suit are Kern County; the Kern County Board of Supervisors; and Bob Addison, director of the Kern County Parks and Recreation Department. …

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