The city of Avondale Estates shut down the Christ Liberty Family Life Center – a church – in April because it didn’t meet the city’s acreage and frontage requirements.
Now, the church is fighting back – with a lawsuit.
The suit, filed late last month in Atlanta, claims the city ordinance that requires churches to sit on 3 acres and include 100 feet of frontage space unfairly singles out religious institutions and doesn’t require the same from other commercial properties.
“Avondale’s 3-acre minimum for churches effectively excludes small congregations,” said John Mauck, an attorney with Chicago’s Mauck & Baker LLC, which represents the church and is known for representing religious institutions nationwide. “Our forefathers fought for a Constitution that protects religious liberty.”
The church is also represented locally by Kevin Theriot of the Alliance Defense Fund, which advocates for religious groups and is financially assisting the church’s case against Avondale Estates. City Manager Clai Brown did not immediately return a call for comment.
Since the city booted the church from its building at the end of Maple Street in the city’s industrial corridor of College Avenue, church leaders have been holding services in temporary venues. Before the church opened in Avondale Estates it was accustomed to the same transience.
“It’s been devastating for us,” said Emma Byrd, a church spokeswoman. “The congregation has been bleeding members and money.”
The church had its final Maple Street service in April. At the time, the church attracted a congregation of about 20 or so people for Sunday services and up to 80 for revivals. Church officials have said they don’t understand why such a small church should need so much land.
Brown told The Champion Newspaper in May the acreage requirement is meant to ensure the church has adequate parking, particularly for special events such as weddings and funerals, which typically attract larger audiences. But property owner Joe Gargiulo said he owns land across the street that would meet the 3-acre rule but has been told because it sits immediately across the city boundary, it doesn’t count.
No court date has been set.