Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Triumph Church could triumph if legislature passes special bill to undo Chilton Co. Anti-clustering ordinance

They should repeal Jefferson County's ordinance while they are at it.

I wish I could see Kurt Wallace's face when he read this :)


Law that stopped Alabama ministry for sex offenders could be repealed

By  Mike Cason | mcason@al.com
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on August 23, 2016 at 12:57 PM, updated August 23, 2016 at 1:40 PM

The Alabama House of Representatives could pass a bill today to repeal a law that ended a Chilton County pastor's ministry for sex offenders.

Pastor Ricky Martin provided transitional housing for sex offenders released from prison in trailers behind his church, Triumph Church, which is next door to his house.

The church is on a two-lane highway on the outskirts of Clanton.

A total of about 60 men lived on the property during the several years Martin operated the ministry, with generally 10 to 12 living there at any one time.

Chilton County officials said some residents in the area were concerned about having a group of sex offenders living together near them and began pursuing legislation to address that.

In 2014, the Legislature passed a law, pertaining only to Chilton County, prohibiting sex offenders who are not related from living on the same property unless their residences are at least 300 feet apart.

The law said that violations constituted a public nuisance subject to civil fines of $500 to $5,000.

Martin closed his ministry after the law passed. He filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the law violated his First Amendment right to practice his religion.

He also claimed the law violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which says governments need a compelling reason for regulations that place a burden on the exercise of religion.

The state asked the court to dismiss Martin's lawsuit. But U.S District Judge W. Keith Watkins has denied those requests, most recently in a July 25 order.

Last Wednesday, during the first week of a special legislative session, the Alabama Senate passed a bill to repeal the 2014 law that Martin challenges in his lawsuit.

The bill is on a proposed agenda the House is expected to consider today.

"It's quite clear, given the timing, that the legislative act to repeal it is a direct result of Pastor Martin's lawsuit," said attorney Randall Marshall of the ACLU of Alabama, who represents Martin.

Marshall said Martin plans to resume his ministry if the law is repealed.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Court rules Martin's lawsuit against Chilton Co. over anti-clustering law can continue

CLICK HERE to read the actual court ruling. The short answer is that the Court has denied the state's motion to dismiss the lawsuit. This court determined that the


Federal Court Rules Alabama Sex Offender Law is “Land Use Regulation” Under RLUIPA

We previously reported on the case Martin v. Houston,  CASE NO. 2:14-CV-905-WKW [WO] (M.D. Alabama 2016), in which the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama considered a pastor’s religious discrimination claims involving the state legislature’s enactment and enforcement of a sex offender law that prevented the pastor’s transitional housing program.  The law in question (Alabama Code § 45-11-82) (the “Act”) prohibited individuals whose names are listed on the Alabama sex offender list from living together in the same home, and further provides that offenders cannot live on the same property as another offender unless the homes are at least 300 feet apart.  In response to the threatened enforcement of the Act, the pastor discontinued his transitional housing program.  Read or prior post about the case here.

Previously, in considering the defendant’s motion to dismiss all claims, the court ruled that the pastor had to “show cause” why the court had jurisdiction to consider his RLUIPA substantial burden claim.

Last week, the court ruled that it had jurisdiction over the RLUIPA substantial burden claim.  What is particularly interesting about the court’s decision is that it finds that the Act is a “land use regulation” under RLUIPA.  Recall, RLUIPA applies only to land use regulations.  The Court stated:

It first bears noting that the precise definition of “zoning” is difficult to delineate….  In general terms, zoning refers to the “legislative division of a region, esp[ecially] a municipality, into separate districts with different regulations within the districts for land use, building size, and the like….”

The Act makes territorial divisions in the same way.  It divides the state of Alabama into two districts: one where sex offenders may not live within 300 feet of each other, and one where they may.  The former includes the entirety of Chilton County, and the latter comprises all other counties within the state.  Rather than imposing in personam restrictions on adult sex offenders themselves, the legislature opted to limit the acceptable uses of property within the Chilton County zone.  In this sense, for purposes of applying the individualized assessments prerequisite, the Act qualifies as a zoning law, and thus constitutes a land use regulation.  (citations omitted)

The court also found that the allegations supported the finding at this point in the proceedings that the enactment and threatened enforcement of the Act against the pastor’s property was an individualized assessment for the proposed use of his property.  Further, the court concluded that the RLUIPA claim was adequately pled, based on the pastor’s allegation that the Act “applied sufficient pressure … such that it coerced him to cease his settlement ministry, which he maintained in furtherance of his religious beliefs.”