Sarasota County, Florida, has changed course to allow a church to use its own property to educate children in its religious school, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, the non-profit religious freedom legal organization representing the church.
ADF attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Englewood Church of the Nazarene, known locally as Crosspoint Church, and its religious school, leading the county to "end discrimination" against the school.
In 2013, the church launched a Christian school for at-risk students which offers "individualized, faith-based education."
ADF says more than three years after the opening of the school, Sarasota County required the church to acquire a "special exception" so the church could continue running the school in its own building. That application cost the church more than $10,000, which is not required of many secular assemblies or institutions.
Once it was submitted, the Sarasota County Board of Commissioners denied the exception and started fining the church $250 each day it educated children on its property.
"Crosspoint Church serves the community by providing a quality Christian education to children with learning disabilities and that come from underprivileged homes," ADF Legal Counsel Kyle McCutcheon said. "We commend Sarasota County for changing course, approving Crosspoint's zoning request, and reimbursing the church's hefty application fee."
"The county already allows the church to host a secular charter school on its property and has now correctly determined that Crosspoint has an equal right to host a private Christian school that's motivated by its convictions," he continued.
After the settlement, Crosspoint voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit, Englewood Church of the Nazarene v. Sarasota County.
"The government can't discriminate against churches or schools simply because they are religious," said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. "Sarasota County's response to our lawsuit benefits the school's students and their parents, who deserve continued access to the high-quality education they have already chosen."
"The county did the right thing in correcting its discriminatory practices and offering Crosspoint Church an equal playing field," she continued.
The federal law known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act bans the government in zoning matters from treating religious groups worse than secular groups.
CBN News reached out to Sarasota County for comment on the settlement in the federal lawsuit. A county spokesperson did not have a specific comment but emailed information from the Office of the County Attorney.
"As part of the lawsuit, Englewood brought to the County's attention that the Unified Development Code (UDC) contained uses that are considered places of public gathering that required code amendments to ensure consistency with federal and/or state law. These include uses such as clubs and lodges, educational facilities, places of worship, community recreational facilities, which are allowed either by right, with the approval of a special exception, or, in some cases, prohibited. Because of these issues within the UDC and to avoid expense and length of litigation, the Office of the County Attorney and County Administrator recommended approval of a settlement agreement."
On June 4, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution allowing a place of worship and educational facility at the church.