The $1 million victory for Teen Challenge will teach Metro Nashville a valuable lesson about religious discrimination, said a Christian lawyer representing the organization.
Last Thursday, a federal district court jury found that officials with the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Fair Housing Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act when they denied Teen Challenge the right to expand its Christian-based ministry on property owned by the organization.
The jury also awarded damages to Teen Challenge totaling $967,995.
"This jury verdict sends a powerful message that religious discrimination by government officials simply won't be tolerated. And the damage award also sends a message that there's a hefty price to pay for those who discriminate against religious organizations," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for American Center for Law and Justice, which represented Teen Challenge in the case.
Teen Challenge, which offers faith-based rehabilitation for drug and alcohol addiction, purchased a 13-acre property in Goodlettsville two years ago. The organization had planned to build a residential treatment facility for young people suffering from addiction.
The prospects of bringing rehabilitative services to the area appeared positive at first until residents protested the build, fearing it would flood the neighborhood with drug addicts.
City officials then took steps to block Teen Challenge from obtaining a permit required to conduct its rehabilitative and religious activities. Teen Challenge was forced to sell the land and halt plans to care for about 40 young people suffering from addiction, Nashville-based City Paper reported. The group then filed suit.
Now that Teen Challenge has won its case, the organization will be looking for a another piece of property for a new facility.
"It's a new day for us," said Teen Challenge Nashville Executive Director Norma Calhoun, who gave God the glory for the ruling.
ACLJ Senior Counsel Larry Crain, who worked on the case, was very pleased with the ruling and said it would help Teen Challenge to get back to its mission.
"This verdict enables Teen Challenge to find a new location and continue its excellent commitment to helping young people struggling with alcohol and drug addiction," he said.
Meanwhile, the City Paper reported that two $50,000 claims against Metro from former Teen Challenge members are still pending trial.