Church reports victory in land condemnation fight with city

Members believe God gave them this property for their mission

Bob UnruhBy Bob Unruh
Published May 8, 2021 at 4:31pm

A Texas church is reporting victory in its fight with city officials over their attempts to condemn and take property that belongs to the church and is used for a variety of ministry efforts.

Officials with First Liberty Institute say the managers in the city of Duncanville have withdrawn their condemnation petition through which they were trying to seize property belonging to Canaan Baptist Church.

The institute, helped by Winston & Strawn LLP, last fall filed a motion to dismiss the petition, arguing that the city’s plan to grab the land violated the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“Canaan Baptist Church believes that God gave the church this property to fulfill its religious mission,” said Keisha Russell, a lawyer for the institute. “The church is relieved, and we are grateful that the city made this decision.”

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“We praise God that the battle to keep our property is over,” said Jarvis Baker, the pastor. “We are eager to continue using it to minister to the community.”

First Liberty explained the city recently had begun pursuing other property, essentially dropped its campaign against the church.

The church’s opposition to the city had followed the city’s move against its property.

The land in question is used by the church for projects including clothing drives, movie nights and youth activity days. It is raising money for a building there.

“There are many places in the world where governments can take the property of churches without regard to religious liberty, but not in Texas. Not here. Not now,” the church had said then.

The church was founded in 1969 to serve Duncanville and South Dallas. The city had demanded the African-American church turn over the property for a “fire station, public safety facility” even though there’s a fire station across the street.

The court document explained: “The city cannot show it has a compelling interest to take this particular property from the church, nor can it show that it cannot build the fire station (or whatever it intends to build that is not disclosed in the petition) somewhere else. The property is sacred to the church because of God’s call and His provision through prayer and sacrificial giving and because of the ongoing worship and ministry that the church already conducts there. But to the city, the property is merely its ‘preferred’ choice among other viable options for building its facility. The city’s threats that they have no choice but to sell will not intimidate the church—they will remain obedient to their call to worship and minister at their property, and, God permitting, they will soon build on it as well.”

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