Yesterday, the Chicagoland Baptist Church of Lansing, Illinois filed a federal law suit alleging violations of their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion, free speech and free assembly; Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process of law and equal protection; and Illinois state religious freedom rights. The suit was filed in the United States District Court in Chicago and was assigned to Honorable Rebecca R. Pallmeyer.
In the suit, Chicagoland Baptist Church charges the Village of Lansing and its officials with maliciously attempting to keep the Church from using the VFW meeting hall at 2433 Ridge Road, which the Church bought in July, 2011, for worship. The Church's Complaint alleges that Village officials falsely claimed that the Village's Zoning Ordinance did not permit churches in the zone on which the VFW meeting hall was located, only to later admit that the church was in fact a permitted use in that zone. The Complaint also asserts that Village officials concocted requirements that the Church obtain certain permits or inspections that were not required by the Village Code. Finally, the Complaint contends that the Village blatantly ignored sections of its own Building Code in requiring that the Church, which has about 30 members, install various unnecessary, legally not required and wasteful systems to the building that have an estimated cost of approximately $125,000.
The Church, which was founded by Pastor B.J. Nordgren in 2007, has met at Luther East High School since 2008. The Church had been looking to purchase a building to enable it to better meet the spiritual needs of its congregants and the community since 2009. The Church continues to pay rent to meet at the high school in addition to making payments for the VFW property it bought which Lansing will not let them use for worship.
"The Church has incurred delay, uncertainty and expense because of the illegal actions of Village officials," said John Mauck of Mauck & Baker, the church's law firm. "The Village wrongly asserts that various additions to the building are necessary under the Building Code. The use of a VFW meeting hall as a worship space for religious meetings is essentially identical. In fact, a church is actually a less hazardous use in terms of fire and safety because a church does not have commercial catering and/or cooking or the service of alcohol on site. Therefore the Church may use the VFW hall for worship without these unnecessary and wasteful systems being added to the building."
"The repeated lies and goal-post movement by Village officials should concern all citizens of Lansing," said Pastor B.J. Nordgren of Chicagoland Baptist Church. "Chicagoland Baptist Church wishes to meet the needs of the community, but the Village has made that very difficult by unnecessarily tying up our time and money with its actions that violate the constitutional rights of the Church and its members and wasting tax payer dollars by necessitating litigation like this. Using the VFW hall for worship would allow the Church to better meet the needs of the community and bless lives with the good news of Jesus Christ."
A copy of the complaint is available upon request by contacting Tom Ciesielka: 312-422-1333; firstname.lastname@example.org
For inquiries on the suit, please contact the Church's attorney John Mauck at 312-853-8709 or Village of Lansing Attorney Dale A. Anderson at 708-895-6663.