by WorldTribune Staff, August 22, 2016
The Raleigh, N.C. City Council had a clear “agenda” when it denied a pro-life pregnancy center’s request for a rezoning permit to operate next door to an abortion clinic, the center said in a federal lawsuit filed against the city.
“Simply put, Raleigh is censoring Hand of Hope’s exercise of its constitutionally protected expressive conduct based on the content and viewpoints of the communications,” the lawsuit, filed by A Hand of Hope Pregnancy Center, said.
After purchasing property next door to the Preferred Women’s Health Center of Raleigh abortion clinic last year for $309,000, A Hand of Hope obtained zoning approval in May from Raleigh’s Planning Commission and Citizen Advisory Council to use it for a not-for-profit pregnancy help center.
The Raleigh City Council, however, unanimously voted to deny the rezoning of the property.
“We own that property, and we think we have a constitutional right to operate our ministry out of property we own,” Tonya Baker Nelson, A Hand of Hope’s executive director, said on Aug. 18. “There seems to be an agenda on the city’s part.”
According to the lawsuit, A Hand of Hope provides “accurate and complete information about both prenatal development and abortion.” At the Raleigh property, the pro-life group planned to host programs including free pregnancy support services, life skills classes, Bible studies and prayer groups.
“The Planning Commission found that the requested rezoning was consistent with Raleigh’s Comprehensive Plan and Raleigh’s Future Land Use Map and that it was not inconsistent with any of Raleigh’s policies,” the lawsuit noted. “The Planning Commission also found that Hand of Hope’s proposal was reasonable and in the public interest…[and] compatible with the surrounding area.”
Raleigh’s City Council and the city attorney “defended their decision by citing their power and ‘wide discretion’ to decide what is the best use for A Hand of Hope’s property,” according to the pro-life group.
The lawsuit, however, claims that Raleigh’s “power and discretion is limited by the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act. This federal law was passed in 2000 after Congress uncovered widespread discrimination against religious organizations in land use regulations across the country.”
“The City Council is not above the law and tried to hide their political power play. Thankfully, the federal law was put in place to prevent politicians from masking their political preferences behind broad discretionary regulations,” said attorney Noel Sterett of Mauck & Baker, LLC in Chicago, which is representing A Hand of Hope in the litigation.
“I hope we can all agree that our freedoms, property rights, and a woman’s right to be fully informed should not be subject to the political whims and discretion of a few city council members,” added Sterett.