CHICAGO,– A federal appeals court yesterday rebuked the City of Chicago for clout-laden practices against a small Christian church. The three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of appeals delivered the decision in favor of the World Outreach Conference Center (WOCC) in its case that claimed Chicago officials violated its constitutional rights by preventing it from continuing to use a 168 single-room occupancy units in a former YMCA building to house Hurricane Katrina victims and other needy people.
In July 2005, the Roseland church purchased an old YMCA building for recreational and residential use to fulfill its religious mission to help the needy. When WOCC attempted to obtain a single-room occupancy (SRO) permit, they were denied because 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale wanted the old YMCA structure sold to his friend and financial backer. Beale caused the city council to rezone the property to “Manufacturing” in an attempt to halt the church’s mission and make room for his real estate developer friend.
“The City acted maliciously and oppressively in rezoning the property. It intentionally discriminated against World Outreach because a local alderman had an agenda that did not allow compassion for those on the bottom rung of the housing ladder,” said John Mauck of Mauck & Baker, lead attorney on the case. “Abusive Chicago officials and their abusive zoning practices are finally getting the exposure their conduct has deserved.”
Judge Richard Posner wrote, “As a result of the City’s actions beginning with the initial denial of the SRO license, World Outreach was impeded in its religious mission of providing living facilities to homeless and other needy people.” Additionally, the City prohibited WOCC from providing housing for Hurricane Katrina victims, even as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Department of Human Services pleaded with the City to issue the license and allow the church to help.
Posner also wrote that City officials conducted “malicious prosecution of a religious organization” by harassing WOCC with “frivolous legal claims.” Beale and other officials acted with “deliberate, irrational discrimination” against the church “in favor of a developer on the basis of his financial relationship to a politician.”
“We have 168 apartments that for two years could have been used to help the needy in our community and those from afar,” said Pastor Pam Blossom. “We are pleased with the court’s decision and look forward to continuing our mission of helping those less fortunate. God is faithful.”
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