South Carolina Church Sues City Over Rental Ban

Most church plants do not have the resources needed to buy or construct their own building. Redeemer Fellowship of Edisto Island is no different. And the Southern Baptist church plant is facing what should be an unlikely foe as the congregation seeks a place in which to worship. Ignoring the First Amendment, the city of Edisto Beach in S. Carolina has banned the church from renting public spaces.

Like many other church plants, Redeemer Fellowship began meeting in a house. By God’s grace, the church, which was planted in January of this year, grew to the point where the house is no longer able to accommodate their needs. Baptist Press reports:

The congregation met at the civic center for worship on Easter Sunday, April 1, and May 6, but the Edisto Beach Town Council voted unanimously at its May 10 meeting to amend its facility use policy to ban such rentals. At its June meeting, the town council approved unanimously the amended facility use guidelines.

The town council acted at the recommendation of town attorney Bert Duffie, who said the First Amendment clause barring government establishment of religion prohibits rental of the civic center for worship services.

Redeemer Fellowship has retained the services of the Alliance Defending Freedom as they seek to overturn the ban. In a press release, the Alliance Defending Freedom asserts:

“Churches shouldn’t be treated less favorably than other groups that want to rent facilities,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “The town of Edisto Beach tells the community that it welcomes ‘civic, political, business, social groups and others’ to use its civic center, but the town’s recent policy change singles out one form of expression, worship, as inferior to other forms of speech, and that’s clearly unconstitutional. Redeemer Fellowship and its members have invested in the Edisto community for years, and they deserve fair treatment and equal access to the town’s public civic center.”

Adding to the discrimination, Edisto Beach has rented space to an Episcopal Church for the previous five years for a variety of uses. Other churches in the community have rented public spaces at various times for weddings, baptisms, and other church-related functions. Because of that:

The lawsuit argues that the town’s recent amended guidelines are inconsistent and amount to viewpoint discrimination—allowing some groups “to engage in singing, teaching, social interaction, and similar expressive activities” at the center while denying “access to those groups that engage in those same activities from a religious viewpoint.”

It should be noted that the Episcopal Church is gay-affirming and officially states, “Leadership is a gift from God, and can be expressed by all people in our church, regardless of sexual identity or orientation.”

It appears Edisto Beach is discriminating based on specific beliefs and not over religion, in general.