A religious liberty law firm has filed a federal lawsuit against a Pennsylvania town that is allegedly banning Bible clubs and other religious meetings from being held on a couple’s 35-acre property.
The lawsuit filed on Wednesday by the Independence Law Center against Sewickley Heights Borough – which is about 15 miles from Pittsburgh – alleges the town ordered Scott and Terri Fetterolf to stop holding religious activities on the property as part of a zoning restriction. Parties, political rallies and book club meetings are not banned under the zoning ordinance.
The suit says the town’s position violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom, free speech, and the freedom to assemble.
“Government should not target religious activities for punishment, particularly when similar secular activities are permitted,” said Jeremy Samek, senior counsel for the Independence Law Center. “In America, no government can categorically ban people from assembling to worship on one’s own property.”
The suit says the property “has been used for many decades to host religious activities such as seminary picnics, seminary board meetings, Pittsburgh Institute for Youth Ministry, Bible studies, fundraisers for pastors and churches, Billy Graham Foundation meetings, and many more religious activities.”
The Fetterolfs bought the property in 2003 from Nancy Chalfant, who also had hosted religious activities on the property. The borough issued a “Notice of Violation/Cease and Desist Order” in October against the Fetterolfs.
“Sewickley Heights is threatening the Fetterolfs with fines of $500 per day, plus court costs including the Borough’s attorney’s fees, for having Bible studies at their home, having meetings where religious songs are sung, conducting any religious retreats for church leaders or seminary students for prayer or for camaraderie-building/fellowship time, and conducting any religious fundraisers,” the suit says.