(BJC) -- A federal court in Florida sided with a community church in St. Pete Beach in a dispute over the UCC congregation offering free parking to the public. The city fined Pass-a-Grille Beach Community Church, which solicits donations from beachgoers who park there but does not charge a fee, for violating city ordinance regulating commercial parking lots.
The church claims the parking service is a ministry protected by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which bars local governments from posing a substantial burden to a house of worship through enforcement of land use regulations unless such enforcement is necessary to further a compelling government interest. The city argues that the church’s claim is not based on a sincere religious belief, and the city suggests the claim is a pretext for using the parking lot during off-hours to obtain donations.
The court rejected the city’s position, and ruled the church is likely to prevail on its RLUIPA claim. Here is an excerpt from the opinion:
Advertisement - story continues below