The Pacific Justice Institute issued this press release yesterday. In our view, this underscores the need for a state-level equivalent to the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) that would put houses of worship on an equal footing with businesses. – Editor
A church is in high spirits after six years of litigation with the County of San Diego for abruptly shutting them down. The County agreed to confer a Minor Deviation Permit to the church, allowing them to continue operations despite having been zoned many years ago-and unknown to the church-as a country-western bar.
“We’re extremely pleased with this positive outcome. Our affiliate attorney, Pete Lepiscopo, did an outstanding job representing this important church to the Guatay community,” said Brad Dacus, President of Pacific Justice Institute. “Our nation needs more churches, and governments not standing in their way.”
Guatay Christian fellowship had rented the same location for almost 25-years before San Diego County suddenly decided that it was improperly zoned and ordered the church to shut down immediately or face $2,500 in daily civil penalties and criminal penalties. In order to operate, the County demanded that the church obtain a Major Use Permit-something that would have cost them close to a half-million-dollars.
For six months, the church was not allowed to operate until Pacific Justice Institute secured a preliminary injunction against the County’s cease and desist order. During oral arguments, District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller called the County’s actions “draconian.”
“The faith and courage exhibited by Pastor Peterson and the congregation over six years have provided an example to other pastors and churches, much like David’s faith and courage when facing Goliath,” said PJI affiliate attorney Pete Lepiscopo, of the San Diego law firm, Lepiscopo & Associates, who represented Guatay Christian Fellowship in these matters.In regards to the County’s actions, the church’s pastor, Stan Peterson, noted, “I could see this if we were crooks and hurting people, but we give to missionaries in Africa and Mexico.”