Church sued when Fredericksburg City Council denied special use permit for program.Fredericksburg, VA – The ACLU of Virginia today filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Calvary Christian Center, a Fredericksburg church seeking a special use permit to open a school for children with mental and emotional disabilities. The ACLU says the church deserves an opportunity to argue in court that the City of Fredericksburg violated federal disability laws when it turned down the church’s request to launch the school.
Lawyers for the city have moved to have the case dismissed without a trial, maintaining that the church does not have standing to sue on behalf of students with disabilities and that it has not made a claim covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act.
“We are not in a position to predict the outcome of the litigation,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, “but we believe that the city’s denial of the permit raises legitimate legal claims and that the law supports the church’s right to have them heard in court.”
Filed by ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg in U.S. District Court in Richmond, the brief argues that case law strongly supports the right of service providers to file lawsuits when they are injured by discrimination based on their clients’ disabilities.
The brief also disputes the city’s contention that it did not deny the special use permit in order to discriminate against students with disabilities, but to protect the safety of the children in the church’s existing day care from those students. The brief argues that the law does not allow the government to make decisions based on stereotypes about the dangerousness of persons with disabilities, and that the court should not accept the city’s “safety” rationale without fully exploring the evidence in a court hearing.
Prior to being turned down by Fredericksburg City Council, the church’s efforts to operate Fairwinds Day School as part of its Christian ministry had passed muster with the Fredericksburg Fire Department, the Virginia Department of Social Services and the Virginia Department of Education. It had also received support from the Fredericksburg Director of Planning and Development and was approved unanimously by the city’s Planning Commission.
“This is a church that wants to help students with disabilities as part of its ministry,” added Willis. “In a nation that prides itself on protecting religious liberty and vigorously defending the rights of persons with disabilities, Calvary Christian Center deserves its day in court.”
A copy of the brief can be found online at: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/CalvaryChristianCenterAmicus.pdf
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022