Liberty Counsel Calls on City to Dismiss 'Frivolous' Lawsuit Against Church

Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks, California (Facebook/Godspeak Calvary Chapel Thousand Oaks)

Liberty Counsel filed its response brief to the Ventura County Superior Court on behalf of a nonprofit foundation that purchased a former YMCA building and entered into an agreement to rent it to Godspeak Calvary Chapel Church.

Dos Vientos Community Preservation Association v. City of Thousand Oaks, the lawsuit brought by the Dos Vientos Community Preservation Association and Donald Armstrong, is an attempt to force the city of Thousand Oaks to discriminate against a California church and a nonprofit organization.

The alleged "Association" consists of a few individuals and argued that the church should not be considered a religious organization entitled to protection under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which requires that religious organizations receive equal treatment in government zoning decisions.

However, the foundation demonstrated that the city of Thousand Oaks followed all applicable laws and regulations in granting the building permits for Calvary Chapel, without requiring a new or amended development permit. There is nothing in the city zoning code, or any other applicable law, that requires a burdensome development permit to be obtained when a private facility changes ownership and is converted to church use. By not requiring a new or amended development permit, as the plaintiffs demanded, the city treated the foundation and the church equally with other similarly situated nonreligious groups that are also not required to obtain new development permits for similar renovations.

The demands of the plaintiffs would have been discriminatory and unconstitutional, because they would have subjected the church and the foundation to different and more onerous burdens solely because of their religious affiliation.

The foundation purchased the building from the YMCA in January 2018. The building is in a commercial complex that is part of a larger residential and commercial development in the city. The overall development was approved by the city in 2002. The city approved an environmental impact report and development permit as required under CEQA and other state laws. Part of the consideration for approval of the project was that the developer would donate a parcel of land to the local YMCA for it to build a center in the neighborhood. The YMCA built and operated a center before it closed in December 2017. The YMCA then sold the property, including the building, to the foundation, which intends to make minor changes and then allow Calvary Chapel to use the facility.

Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver said: "It is time for the Ventura County Superior Court to dismiss this frivolous lawsuit against a Christian church. It is a violation of the law to welcome a YMCA but refuse a church. The city of Thousand Oaks followed the law, but a small handful of people want the city to violate zoning laws and federal laws to discriminate against the use of the building for religious services. This will not happen."

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