Court Lifts Limits on Halfway-House Ministry

     (CN) – A Texas town wrongfully barred a minister from offering men who had been released from prison free housing and religious instruction, the Texas Supreme Court ruled.

     The city of Sinton passed a zoning ordinance that effectively stopped Pastor Richard Wayne Barr from continuing his ministry. It barred correctional facilities from being located within 1,000 feet of a school, park or church.
     The trial court and appeals court both ruled against Barr’s claim that the city had violated the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. However, the state high court reversed the decision.
     Justice Hecht found that the ordinance placed a substantial burden on Barr’s rights and that the city did not demonstrate that the ordinance was the least restrictive way for the city to further a government interest.
     “(The ordinance) prohibited Barr from operating his halfway house ministry,” Hecht wrote, “and the city manager testified … that alternate locations are probably minimal and possibly pretty close to non-existent.”
     But the court stressed that the city’s failure to establish a compelling interest “in no way suggests that the government never has a compelling interest in zoning for religious use of property or in regulating halfway houses operated for religious purposes.”
     Hecht added: “We do not hold that the city could not have satisfied (the Act); we hold only that it failed to do so.”
     The justices reversed and remanded to the trial court.

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