A church in Yuma, Ariz., faced unfair treatment when it was left paying the mortgage on a building the city would not allow it to occupy.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith, announced Tuesday that the church won its legal battle on appeal and can now seek damages, including payment for the money it lost.

“Churches should not be singled out for discrimination by a city’s zoning restrictions,” says Byron Babione, who argued before the 9th Circuit in April of last year. “Government officials cannot use broad commercial reasons to favor non-religious businesses or membership organizations over religious ones. The city’s actions left this small congregation with a mortgage to pay on a building it couldn’t use for two years while it had to pay for another meeting place at the same time.”

In a lawsuit ADF attorneys filed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the city did not treat the church equally with similarly situated groups and businesses as required by federal law. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act protects churches from discrimination in land use disputes with local governments.

The court wrote in its opinion: “It is hard to see how an express exclusion of ‘religious organizations’ from uses permitted as of right by other ‘membership organizations’ could be other than ‘less than equal terms’ for religious organizations.”

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