New Court Filing Charges that Burbank Leadership is Violating Religious Rights of Rios de Agua Viva Congregation.
Friday, the Chicago church Rios de Agua Viva filed a Federal law suit charging violations of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, along with Federal and Illinois state religious land use rights. The suit was filed in the United States District Court in Chicago.
In the suit, Rios de Agua Viva charges that the city of Burbank is maliciously attempting to change its zoning code to make it impossible for the church to occupy property it has under contract, the site of the former Old Barn Restaurant at 8100 South Parkside in Burbank. The suit also claims that the city is violating the Federal Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act (RLUIPA) by illegally requiring the church to apply for a special use permit while freely allowing non-religious assembly uses without a permit. Rios de Agua Viva, a Hispanic congregation of approximately 250 people, alleges that it has been exposed to unnecessary financial burdens caused by the litigation against the city’s zoning code, which fails to follow Federal and state laws.
The Old Barn is located in a commercial zone, which under Burbank’s current zoning code allows “Dance Studios, Schools and Halls,” “Physical Fitness Facilities,” “Business Associations,” “Labor Associations,” “Civic, Social and Fraternal Associations” and “Political Organizations” without a special use permit. In a recent federal appellate case, River of Life Kingdom Ministries v. Vill. of Hazel Crest, the 12-member court of appeals stated that a church may not be kept out of a commercial zone if the municipality allows non-religious, non-commercial assembly uses in the commercial zone.
“Burbank’s actions are religious persecution. Rios de Agua Viva, in a gesture of good faith, applied for a special use permit, even though they need not have done so under Federal and state law,” said John Mauck of Mauck & Baker, the church’s law firm. “After the church started the special use permit process, Burbank leaders delayed reviewing the permit application while they surreptitiously began working to change the code to shut out this church from locating in the city. Federal law and past court decisions are on our side, and we will persevere in the fight to establish Rios de Agua Viva in Burbank.”
“The way Burbank is treating our church is strange. The Old Barn Restaurant has been in bankruptcy and is deteriorating, and we plan to preserve this historic landmark and use the location to minister to the needs of the community,” said the church’s pastor, Luis Ruiz. “Families have celebrated momentous, life-changing occasions at the Old Barn for more than a century, so why won’t Burbank’s leadership allow us to continue to bless lives with the good news of Jesus and enhance the diversity of the community?”