Va. Megachurch Wrestles with County Over Classes

WASHINGTON – Leaders of McLean Bible Church in McLean, Va., may take Fairfax County to court over the right to hold theological classes at its campus after the county rejected the church’s request to allow classes without requiring special exception including public hearings before the county Board of Supervisors.

The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals rejected the church’s request last week, upholding a prior county ruling that the theological classes violated the current approved zoning for the church, reported The Times Fairfax County community newspaper on Thursday. The classes are part of a college-level religious education program that church leaders assert is part of their ministry.

“The county is intruding on the church's religious practices,” Stuart Mendelsohn, McLean’s attorney, said. “This is a critical part of the church's education program.”

“The county has no business saying we can't have the classes,” he said. “We believe that similar approvals have been granted to institutions like William and Mary.”

The classes are taught in conjunction with Capital Bible Seminary and about 100 people a week attend the classes compared to 10,000 people who attend service throughout the week. Therefore, Mendelsohn said the classes make up a “very minor use” of the church.

However, county officials said that because the classes are offered in partnership with an accredited institution, the church is functioning as a college and as a result requires a special permit.

The church’s attorney believes that if the church wants to continue to hold classes, the next option is taking Fairfax County to court.