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Ninth Circuit Rules in Favor of Church

SAN FRANCISCO – The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that a city plan prohibiting churches from ground-floor occupancy of buildings in a three-block area of Salinas’ downtown special zone violates federal law. 
New Harvest Christian Fellowship had rented space along Main Street in the City of Salinas for over 25 years, and its growing congregation prompted church leaders to recognize the need for a larger facility to accommodate ministry needs. The Church purchased the Beverly building, a larger building in the downtown corridor, and filed an application with the City for an amendment to the zoning code and a conditional use permit. The City Council rejected the application, finding that churches do not contribute to a “vibrant” and “fun” pedestrian-oriented atmosphere and therefore may be excluded from Salinas’ downtown area.
Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) filed suit on behalf of New Harvest in federal court to challenge the City’s downtown plan and identify many similar categories of gatherings that are allowed under the local ordinance while excluding houses of worship. The facts of the case showed that these preferred assembly uses are located in the three-block area: two cinemas, a children’s theatre, and a multi-use facility which holds events such as ...