March 18, 2014

Church Lawsuit Spurs Las Cruces Ordinance Change Proposal

Reposted with permission of the Las Cruces Sun-News

Las Cruces City Councilors will vote Monday [March 17] on an overhauled business registration ordinance as the result of a recent lawsuit they settled with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The church had sued the city in September in U.S. district court after the city previously had "threatened to take legal action if the Las Cruces Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church failed to comply with the requirements of the business registration ordinance," according to an article by Elizabeth Lechleitner last year in the Adventist News Network.

The church took issue with the city's definition of businesses, which factored in religious activity, and said the ordinance went against the group's right to freedom of religious expression.

City councilors decided in a closed meeting on January 6 to settle the lawsuit and to overhaul the ordinance.

"The current ordinance is uncertain as to its application to churches and other nonprofit organizations," city staff wrote in agenda documents. "The plaintiffs ... stated vagueness and ambiguity in the ordinance which results in civil rights and constitutional violations, such as significant delays in the right to religious speech and association, no time limit for approval or denial of a business registration application, no provision for the due process of a timely administrative hearing and no appeal or review in the event a business registration is denied."

Monday, councilors will vote on the revised ordinance aimed at addressing the church's concerns.