Rocky Mountain Christian Church just won a huge battle that really was about just how beneficial churches are to the community. Located in a rural area of Boulder County, Colorado, the church found itself at odds with the local zoning board because it needed to expand its sanctuary and school to accommodate an additional 150 worshipers and 120 students. The County dug its heals in, saying it wasn’t going to have any “mega-churches” in its neck of the woods. It changed its rules to make it more difficult for churches – and this church in particular – to locate and grow there. Thankfully, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion and a jury in the trial court below both saw the anti-religious bigotry at work and ruled against the county. You can read this helpful opinion obtained by the Becket Fund on behalf of the church here.
But this case is merely one more example of how government officials increasingly see churches as more of a hinderance than a help to the local community. That hasn’t always been so. The Supreme Court observed in the 1970 Walz case that religious organizations are widely recognized as fostering “moral or mental improvement” in communities. Yet many governments now treat them no better than sexually oriented businesses – and sometimes worse.
The fact is, studies have shown that churches are a tremendous benefit to the communities they serve. For instance, a Baylor University study found that kids that attend church in low income neighborhoods have a better chance of staying in school and succeeding academically. Another study concludes that “Churches and religious groups offer a vast array of services to their local communities …that sometimes are not being provided elsewhere, such as [a]fter-school programs, refugee resettlement, homeless shelters, [and] food banks….”
Local governments cut off a vital part of their communities when they discourage churches from locating and growing in their neighborhoods. There is no way government can provide all the beneficial services religious organizations do – especially in this day and age when government services are being cut.
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