The Crawford County Commission and Liberty Baptist Church have settled their differences over the church’s right to assemble at 1714 W. 20th St.
According to a release by Mauck and Baker, Liberty Baptist’s attorneys, the settlement calls for Liberty Baptist to plant shrubs along the southern border while the county will compensate the church for some of its costs and fees. The church will be allowed to assemble beginning in July at 10 a.m. every Sunday morning.
“The congregation and I are happy to put this litigation behind us and look forward to sharing the truth, love, and forgiveness of Jesus to those in need in our community at our new location,” said Pastor Sandy Stallings. “We commend the commissioners and their counsel for not dragging this case out at great public expense.”
The lawsuit came as a result of Liberty Baptist’s application in two consecutive applications to the county for a “conditional use permit” for a church at their new location. Although both times the Planning and Zoning Board had approved the proposed use, the Crawford County Commission denied the application.
The commission had cited in Sept. 2013 safety concerns because of a narrow road and poor sight lines, the proposed use not meeting the same “general character” of the neighborhood, concerns from nearby residents about activity on church grounds outside of its use, and concerns about the viability of the 15-member church. This March, the commission voted 3-0 to deny the application for reasons of safety and general character of the neighborhood concerns.
The church filed a lawsuit in April claiming that their rights were violated under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
“We can all agree that there are better ways to spend taxpayer dollars than fighting religious groups in our communities. No one benefits from dragging these cases out on the public dime,” said Liberty Baptist attorney Noel Sterett, of Mauck and Baker.
Crawford County Counselor Jim Emerson said that the county’s willingness to settle came from looking at other cases.
“This settlement was done due to the risk involved with litigation. We were concerned about other cases along the same line that had been litigated in other states. Some had won significant attorney’s fees. One was in excess of $1 million,” Emerson said. “It boiled down to the decision of: ‘Is it worth the risk to take it to trial?’ Especially in light of the fact attorney’s fees could be substantial.”