Appellate court upholds verdict against Prince George's County
A federal appeals court this week upheld a $3.7 million verdict against Prince George's County that arose out of a discrimination claim filed by a church.
The case involves Reaching Hearts International, a Seventh-day Adventist church that claimed the county unfairly tried to thwart its plans to build a sanctuary on a 17-acre parcel in Laurel. In its lawsuit, the church argued that officials used zoning regulations "to keep African American churches out of" the county.
The case has wended its way through the courts. A federal jury sided with the church in April 2008. That fall, U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus affirmed the jury's verdict. This week a panel of the appellate court upheld Titus's opinion.
In his ruling, Titus cited the Constitution and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. That statute allows religious organizations to overcome local zoning and development rules if the government agency imposing them cannot show a compelling reason for any restrictions that burden religious practices.
In 2002, the church bought the Laurel parcel with plans to build a sanctuary. The Prince George's County council approved a zoning change that would have allowed the church to connect to public water and sewer lines, but later reconsidered and rejected the change after receiving comments from council member Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel), who represents the area, according to the lawsuit.
County Spokesman John Erzen said officials "are currently reviewing the ruling and considering all of our options."
March 4, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories: Maria Glod , Pr. George's , Updates
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