[Hpn] Bizarre turn in Mega-Shelter Issue

HOBOMATT@aol.com HOBOMATT@aol.com
Fri, 02 Feb 2001 09:16:04 -0500 (EST)

This is the latest bizarre twist in our Mega-shelter saga, here in Colorado 
Springs, CO. These three agencies are doing just fine in "their mission" 
where they currently are and certainly could relocte to improve "their 
mission", as long as it is in complience with zoning regulations. My best 
guess is that the 1/2 billion dollar foundation El Pomar put them up to this 
action. Sad to see these "charities" joining the ranks of the "bullies" of 
Mill Street.
Matt Parkhouse, RN;
Colorado Springs, CO

Religious battle 

By Eric Gorski/The Gazette (2-2-01)

Citing a new federal law, three Colorado Springs nonprofit groups claim their 
religious freedoms were violated by neighbors who sued to block a homeless 
facility planned south of downtown.

The three agencies - Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs, Ecumenical 
Social Ministries and SET - are prospective tenants of the Montgomery 
Community Center.

The center, which would include a shelter, soup kitchen and other homeless 
services, won City Council approval in November after a 17-hour meeting.

The center would be run by a secular group, the American Red Cross, and be 
built with $5 million in money from the El Pomar Foundation, another 
nonreligious organization.

Five people who live east of the site at Mill and Conejos streets sued in 
December challenging the city's contention that existing zoning allowed the 
project. None of the three religious groups was named as a defendant.

The groups, however, have chosen to intervene. They argue in a counterclaim 
filed last week that part of their religious calling is to "serve the infirm, 
the needy, and the homeless in Colorado Springs and elsewhere."

They say the neighbors' attempts to use zoning and other land-use rules to 
block the project would prevent them from providing those services and thus 
"impose a substantial burden" on their free exercise of religion.

The groups cite the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and 
Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which was signed into law by former 
President Bill Clinton last fall.

The law prohibits the imposition of land-use regulations that put a burden on 
the exercise of religion. A "compelling interest" must be shown to zone 
religious institutions out of neighborhoods.

Just last month, a Grand Haven, Mich., church won the first case involving 
the law. The church argued that the town's zoning ordinance discriminated 
against religious organizations by excluding religious worship in certain 
retail districts.

But the law can be applied not only to governments, but ordinary citizens. A 
Baptist church in New Jersey, for example, is using the law to defend its 
plans to build a large complex against the objections of a neighborhood group.

The constitutionality of RLUIPA is expected to come under legal challenge.

The Colorado Springs counterclaim asks for the 4th Judicial District Court to 
dismiss the neighbors' lawsuit and "provide such other relief as the Court 
deems just."

"We're not doing this to be bad guys," said Krzysztof Myszkowski, executive 
director of Catholic Charities. "We're doing this because it's right."

William Robinson, the lead neighborhood plaintiff, said the lawsuit doesn't 
keep the nonprofits from serving the needy.

"The people of this neighborhood are trying to prevent El Pomar and the Red 
Cross from destroying this neighborhood by forcing the city to enforce its 
own zoning ordinances," Robinson said.

"It is outrageous that these nonprofits hide behind the claim of religious 
persecution to prevent the neighbors from exercising their right to legal 

The neighbors' lawsuit names as defendants the City Council, the Red Cross 
and project consultant Thomas and Thomas. Attorneys for the city and the Red 
Cross have disputed its claims.

A judge likely will consider the merits of the lawsuit and the defendant's 
answer - probably in the next two months - before dealing with the religious 
freedom counterclaim.