U.S. sues village for religious discrimination against church

File: A typical church interior

The United States Department of Justice says it has filed a lawsuit against the Village of Walthill in Nebraska for alleged religious discrimination against a church.

It said in a statement on Thursday that Walthill denied Light of the World Gospel Ministries, a nondenominational and multi-ethnic Christian body, a permit to construct a new church building.

The department alleged that in the same period the village approved construction of a library, an education centre and other nonreligious places of gathering in the locality.

It said the alleged action was a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalised Persons Act (RLUIPA).

“The complaint, filed in the District of Nebraska, alleges that on Sept. 13, 2017, the Village of Walthill denied Light of the World’s application for a special use permit to construct a church on property it owns in a commercial district in downtown Walthill.

“During the same period, the village approved construction of nonreligious places of assembly in the district, including a library and an education center,’’ it said.

The department added that by that action, Walthill imposed “a substantial burden on the church’s religious exercise without adequate justification.”

It said the village also treated the church worse than “comparable’’ nonreligious assemblies and institutions.

“Treating places of worship less favorably than nonreligious assemblies is unlawful discrimination against religious exercise,” the statement quoted U.S. Assistant Attorney General, Eric Dreiband, as saying.

Dreiband, of the Civil Rights Division, expressed the department’s commitment to protecting the rights of congregations guaranteed by federal laws.

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that religious freedom is a key component of the foreign policy of the President Donald Trump’s administration.

In September, Trump announced the dedication of 25 million dollars for the protection of religious sites and places of worship across the world.

He also announced the establishment of a coalition of top business leaders to help protect religious freedom in the workplace.

The administration has also declared Jan. 16 as Religious Freedom Day, and announced new rules and measures to make more federal funds available to religious organisations and promote prayers in public schools.