Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Pastor Accuses San Diego Of Discriminating Against Churches

Does the City of San Diego discriminate against churches? It does, according to a lawsuit filed by Pastor Christopher Chadwick of the Canyon Ridge Baptist Church. The Church has been renting space for Sunday services at the Kearny Mesa Recreation Center for 3 years. As reported in a story by Channel 10 News and confirmed in court documents, the City charges the Church rates that are as much as 22 times the rates charged to other nonprofit organizations. An initial review of the City's leasing practices indicates that these policies violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause.

The fees charged by the City are based strictly on the classification of the type of organization. Groups like the Girl Scouts and Little League clubs are classified as "advisory groups" and are charged little or no fees. Associations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Kiwanis are defined as "community groups" and pay slightly higher fees. "Private groups", which pay the highest fees, are defined as commercial or fundraising groups, or private schools and churches.

The most dramatic example of this fee structure can be seen in the fees charged for the use of the Auditorium/Gymnasium at the Kearny Mesa Recreation Center. As a "community group", Alcoholics Anonymous can rent the Auditorium/Gymnasium for as little as $1.88 per hour (based on a fee of $7.50 per meeting, up to 4 hours per meeting). As a "private group", a church must pay $41.50 per hour for the use of the same facility. By arbitrarily classifying a church as a "private group", the City is charging churches higher fees than other nonprofit groups in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

The First Amendment does not allow government interference with religious beliefs and the Equal Protection Clause prohibits the government from discriminating against religious groups. There is no logical reason for the City of San Diego to charge higher fees just because the intended use of the facility is for church services. The City must reform its facility rental policies to make sure that all nonprofit groups are treated equally and fairly.

About the Author
Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

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