A church in Texas is putting up a legal fight to stop a city from taking control of a church-owned property via eminent domain to build a new fire station, arguing that it interferes with their religious rights.
Canaan Baptist Church filed a legal motion on Tuesday against the City of Duncanville in Dallas County Court seeking to dismiss a petition by the city for eminent domain.
At the center of the dispute is a vacant lot owned by Canaan Baptist, which the congregation plans to build upon and presently uses for various purposes.
The church, pastored by Dr. Jarvis Baker, was founded in 1969 and ministers to the Duncanville and South Dallas community. It has used the vacant lot to host events such as clothing drives, movie nights and youth activity days.
On Aug. 28, the city filed a petition for condemnation of the lot.
“The Church’s acquisition of the Property, its investment in plans to construct a house of worship on the Property, its current use of the Property for religious activities, and its desire to expand its ministry to those within the community from a centrally-located and heavily trafficked location, are unequivocally motivated by its members’ sincerely held religious beliefs,” the motion argued.
“Here, the City’s seizure of the Property would meaningfully curtail Canaan Baptist’s free exercise of religion. If the Property were seized, Canaan Baptist’s ongoing ministry and other religious activities on its consecrated Property would immediately halt.”
Canaan Baptist is being represented by the First Liberty Institute, a conservative law firm based in Plano, Texas that often handles religious liberty litigation.
Keisha Russell, counsel with First Liberty, told The Christian Post that her organization became involved in the case when a representative of the church contacted them.
“We were happy to help,” said Russell, noting that a hearing over the motion to dismiss has not yet been scheduled.
Duncanville Public Information Office Alex Hamby provided CP with a statement regarding the lawsuit, noting that the city will “be filing a response with the court at the appropriate time.”
“The City of Duncanville owns the property adjacent the vacant, undeveloped lot owned by Canaan Baptist Church and has developed plans for a fire station to be constructed at that location,” continued the statement.
Russell told CP that she believed the church had a case since the eminent domain proceedings involve “government action,” which “must comport with the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
“In this case, the law requires the City to prove that it has no choice but to burden the Church’s religious exercise because there is no other property the City can use for its purposes,” she added. “The City cannot prove this because it has many other property options.”