Texas city withdraws petition to take property from church, ends eminent domain legal battle

Canaan Baptist Church
A vacant lot that the Dallas, Texas-area congregation Canaan Baptist Church wants to develop into a new worship space. In October 2020, the church filed a motion to dismiss aimed at reversing an eminent domain claim by the City of Duncanville. |

A Texas city has withdrawn its eminent domain request to take property owned by a local predominantly African American congregation as part of an effort to build a new fire station.

In the Dallas suburbs, the city of Duncanville garnered headlines last year when it filed a petition to seize a vacant lot owned by Canaan Baptist Church.

The city’s attorney Robert Hager confirmed to The Christian Post Wednesday that the town had filed a request to withdraw the eminent domain petition.

The First Liberty Institute of Plano, Texas, which represents the church in court, celebrated the decision to withdraw the condemnation petition.

“Canaan Baptist Church believes that God gave the Church this property to fulfill its religious mission,” said First Liberty Institute Counsel Keisha Russell in a statement.

“The church is relieved, and we are grateful that the City made this decision.”

Canaan Baptist Pastor Jarvis Baker expressed thanks to God and city officials for the petition being withdrawn.

“We praise God that the battle to keep our property is over,” Baker said. “We are eager to continue using it to minister to the community. We want to thank the City for ending this conflict.”

In August 2020, Duncanville filed the petition for condemnation in Dallas County Court, seeking to take control of a vacant property that the congregation acquired in 2002.

Last October, the church filed a motion in Dallas County Court to dismiss the petition, arguing that it interfered with the congregation’s usage of the lot for religious purposes.

Although the lot was devoid of any permanent buildings, Canaan Baptist nevertheless regularly held outdoor events at the property, including worship and charitable giveaways.

Before the petition’s filing, the congregation had plans to make the lot its central ministry and worship space. 

In an interview with CP at the time, Russell explained that Duncanville’s petition had to “comport with the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

“In this case, the law requires the city to prove that it has no choice but to burden the church’s religious exercise because there is no other property the city can use for its purposes,” said Russell. “The city cannot prove this because it has many other property options."  

Canaan Baptist is a small congregation founded in 1969 and ministers to the South Dallas community. Events held at the vacant lot include clothing drives, youth activity days and movie nights. 

In its motion to dismiss the city’s petition, lawyers claimed that the church plans to “construct a house of worship on the Property.” Additionally, the motion argued that the church’s “desire to expand its ministry to those within the community from a centrally-located and heavily trafficked location, are unequivocally motivated by its members’ sincerely held religious beliefs.”

At the time, the city argued that it owned property adjacent to the undeveloped lot and “developed plans for a fire station to be constructed at that location.”

According to the First Liberty Institute, the city’s withdrawal comes as it recently began to pursue other property options.  

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