An appeals court has ruled in favor of a New York State Pentecostal congregation regarding a 14-year-old case surrounding the church's intention to build on a piece of property.
The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that Fortress Bible Church could build a structure on property in the Town of Greenburgh, despite opposition by town officials.
Second Circuit Judge John Walker affirmed a 2010 lower court decision, saying that Greenburgh officials had "disingenuously used [the environmental review process] to obstruct and ultimately deny the church's project."
"…the Town's arguments on appeal are without merit and we conclude that the relief ordered by the district court was within its discretion," wrote Walker.
Donna Frosco, lead attorney for Fortress Bible, in an interview with local media, stated, "Obviously, we are gratified that the appellate court recognized the mistreatment to which the church has long been subject at the hands of the town."
In 1998, Fortress Bible Church of Mount Vernon, New York purchased a 6.5 acre parcel of land in Greenburgh with the intention of building a church and school on the grounds. In order to do so, Fortress Bible had to get permission from Greenburgh officials as well as meet requirements under New York's State Environmental Quality Review Act.
While Fortress Bible had satisfied its SEQRA requirements, Greenburgh refused to approve the project. In 2003, Fortress Bible sued Greenburgh, claiming that the town violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, among other issues.
In 2010, Judge Steven C. Robinson of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of Fortress Bible.
"Plaintiffs have proven that similarly situated institutions were treated differently than Plaintiffs, without any rational basis. Therefore, Defendants have violated Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection rights," wrote Robinson.
"The Court orders that the Fortress Bible Church's January 2000 site plan (EAF) application is deemed approved for purposes of SEQRA and that there shall be no further SEQRA review by the Town or its Board."
Paul Feiner, town supervisor for Greenburgh, told The Christian Post that it was not a matter of religious discrimination, stating that "a number of synagogues and churches have been built with my support."
"The reason why we rejected this application is because of legitimate traffic and safety concerns that was highlighted by the police chief to us years ago," said Feiner. "I believe that federal laws should be changed to provide local governments with more control over land use matters."
According to Feiner, the Town of Greenburgh does not intend to make an appeal. Fortress Bible will likely seek at least $5 million in damages from Greenburgh.
Fortress Bible Church of Mount Vernon, N.Y., did not return comment by press time.