Englewood Church of the Nazarene v. Sarasota County
Description: Sarasota County, Florida, had forced a church to go through a $10,000 special exemption process, not required of numerous secular assemblies or institutions, and then denied the church’s zoning request.
Lawsuit prompts Florida county to end discrimination against religious school
In 2013, Englewood Church of the Nazarene, known locally as Crosspoint Church, started a Christian school to serve at-risk students by offering an individualized, faith-based education. More than three years after the school opened, Sarasota County demanded that the church obtain a “special exception” in order to continue operating the school in the church’s own building. After the church submitted its application—a time-consuming and uncertain process costing over $10,000—the Sarasota County Board of Commissioners refused to grant the exception and began fining the church $250 for each day it continued to educate children on its property.
“Crosspoint Church serves the community by providing a quality Christian education to children with learning disabilities and that come from underprivileged homes,” said ADF Legal Counsel Kyle McCutcheon. “We commend Sarasota County for changing course, approving Crosspoint’s zoning request, and reimbursing the church’s hefty application fee. The county already allows the church to host a secular charter school on its property and has now correctly determined that Crosspoint has an equal right to host a private Christian school that’s motivated by its convictions.”
In light of the settlement, Crosspoint on Monday voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit, Englewood Church of the Nazarene v. Sarasota County, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
“The government can’t discriminate against churches or schools simply because they are religious,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “Sarasota County’s response to our lawsuit benefits the school’s students and their parents, who deserve continued access to the high-quality education they have already chosen. The county did the right thing in correcting its discriminatory practices and offering Crosspoint Church an equal playing field.”
A federal law known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act prohibits the government from treating religious groups worse than secular groups in zoning matters. Passed by unanimous consent of both the House and Senate and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, the law prevents the government from engaging in such discrimination.
Mark Anderson, one of nearly 3,400 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case for the church and school.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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Kyle McCutcheon serves as legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Christian Ministries. In this role, McCutcheon primarily focuses his practice on representing churches, faith-based schools, and faith-based ministries belonging to the ADF Ministry Alliance. He began his legal career with Axon Enterprise, Inc. (formerly TASER International, Inc.) before serving as an assistant attorney general with the office of the Arizona Attorney General. His work as an assistant attorney general included prosecuting individuals charged with child abuse and neglect. A native of Arizona, McCutcheon earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from Arizona State University in 2012 and completed his Juris Doctor at Arizona Summit Law School in 2014. He is a member of the state bar of Arizona. McCutcheon joined ADF to protect the church so that people may continue to freely spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christiana Kiefer serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is a key member of the Center for Conscience Initiatives. Since joining ADF in 2012, Kiefer has worked to protect women's and girls' sports and has defended the bodily privacy rights of students. She has also worked to protect the constitutionally protected freedom of churches, Christian schools, and Christian ministries to exercise their faith without government interference. Kiefer earned her J.D. in 2010 from Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy, where she graduated first in her class and served as a teaching assistant in criminal law. Also in 2010, Kiefer completed the ADF leadership development program to become a Blackstone Fellow. She is admitted to the state bar of California, the U.S. Supreme Court, and numerous federal district and appellate courts.