By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
HOLLY SPRINGS – The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a Holly Springs ordinance forbidding churches on the square is contrary to federal law.
Opulent Life Church’s lawsuit, represented by the Liberty Institute, contends that the city of Holly Springs is illegally harming it by banning it from the city’s center after the congregation had leased a storefront space. The ruling recognizes that a new ordinance, passed the night before the Appeals Court heard the matter, also contradicts the law. It bans not only churches, but also “temples, synagogues, mosques, and other religious facilities” from the newly created Business Courthouse Square District.
“The stated purpose of this new district ‘is to designate the area. . .for certain retail, office and service uses which will complement the historic nature and traditional functions of the court square area as the heart of community life,’” the court noted. “Yet while religious facilities are not welcome, other noncommercial uses are. For instance, libraries, museums, and art galleries are all permitted on the courthouse square.”
The ruling returns the issue to U.S. District Court in Oxford, which had previously refused the church’s request for a preliminary injunction to keep the city from enforcing the ordinance until a judge finally decides the issue.
Oxford attorney Reed Martz, who has worked with Liberty Institute on the case, said he expects to file a new preliminary injunction request next week.
“Our hope is that the court could resolve this before the end of October,” he said.
Opulent Life also seeks damages, contending that being unable to move to its intended new location has lost potential members and hampered its ministry.
Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute’s director of litigation, said the victory is a step closer to freeing the church for ministry.
“I am hopeful that this will pave the way for other churches to enjoy fair treatment in the city of Holly Springs and throughout the nation,” he said.