By The Associated Press
HOLLY SPRINGS — The U.S. Department of Justice has joined a Holly Springs church’s effort to relocate to a storefront space on the downtown square.
In January, a federal judge denied an Opulent Life Church’s request
to stop the city from enforcing part of its zoning ordinance. The church and its supporters, including the Texas-based Liberty Institute, hold that several restrictions in the law are unconstitutional because they are unequally applied to churches.
The church and the Liberty Institute appealed the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The Justice Department, in a news release Thursday, said it had documents in support of the church.
The Justice Department said its brief that the city ordinance improperly singles out places of worship for special restriction and is in violation of federal law.
The Liberty Institute said due to zoning restrictions, the church must get the approval of 60 percent of nearby residents and the town’s mayor before they can expand. No other type of business in Holly Springs must obtain such approval.
“We believe the church is being irreparably harmed by the inadequacy of its present facility to accommodate both its weekly congregants as well as its additional community-oriented activities,” said Reed Martz, an Oxford attorney representing the church and its pastor, Telsa DeBerry.
Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Institute, said Holly Springs “is placing special burdens on churches that are unfair and illegal, subjecting churches to unequal treatment.”