Illinois Baptist pastor Nathan Carter will be part of a panel discussion on the rights of churches Sept. 25 in Chicago. The discussion will focus on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a law designed to protect churches dealing with land usage and zoning issues.
Carter and his church, Immanuel Baptist, are well-versed in RLUIPA and the challenges of finding meeting space in the city. In 2016, they started the process of purchasing the building where they’ve met for several years. The city blocked the sale because Immanuel didn’t have the number of dedicated parking spaces required by Chicago’s zoning ordinance.
Immanuel eventually filed suit, claiming the zoning ordinance is a violation of RLUIPA. Mauck & Baker, the law firm representing the church, says the zoning ordinance imposes stricter guidelines on churches. (Other establishments in the neighborhood are allowed to utilize street parking.)
Now, two years later, the church is close to finalizing the building purchase. To help settle the dispute with the city, Immanuel agreed to lease a parking lot about a half-mile from their building. It’s unlikely anyone will use the parking spaces when attending the church, Carter said, because Immanuel uses street parking. But leasing the lot allows the church to abide by Chicago’s zoning ordinance and move forward with the purchase.
“We’re excited about this!” Carter said. “And praising God.” His church is ready to hit the ground running with renovations to the building as soon as the sale is finalized. But their legal journey isn’t over yet. The city filed a motion to dismiss the case late last year, and they’re still waiting on the judge to rule. Depending on the verdict, Immanuel could have an opportunity to prevail in court, meaning the city would be required to pay their legal fees and damages. The case could also have implications for other churches struggling with the zoning ordinance.
The RLUIPA panel discussion is set for Sept. 25 at John Marshall Law School, Room 1200. Doors open at 6 p.m.; the event is 6:30-8 p.m. The discussion will include Carter and John Mauck of Mauck & Baker.
For more information, go to buildingfaith.eventbrite.com.