A faith-based drug rehabilitation organization was awarded nearly $1 million after a jury found that their rights had been violated over a land dispute with a city government.
A federal court in Nashville awarded Teen Challenge $967,995 after the jury found that the city government and Davidson County had violated three major sections of the law in denying permits to the organization. The city was found in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Fair Housing Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The original complaint claimed that the faith-based organization was unfairly denied land use permits for a planned 13-acre residential treatment facility for young people suffering from addiction.
When finally given approval to use the land, government officials then revoked its approval of Teen Challenge's request for zoning. As a result, the ministry had to auction off the property since it could no longer use the land for its intended purposes.
"This is an incredible victory for Teen Challenge and for the rights of religious organizations," said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ, which represented Teen Challenge in the case.
"This jury verdict sends a powerful message that religious discrimination by government officials simply won't be tolerated. The size of the jury award also sends a message that there's a hefty price to pay for those who discriminate against religious organizations.
"We're delighted with the outcome of this case and are pleased that the mission and work of Teen Challenge can now move forward," Sekulow added.
ACLJ Senior Counsel Larry Crain, who litigated the case on behalf of Teen Challenge, said the jury agreed with the ACLJ on all counts.
"This jury understood that it is simply unacceptable for a city to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the constitution and its verdict underscores the fact that cities that do participate in this type of religious discrimination must be held accountable," Crain said.
"This verdict enables Teen Challenge to find a new location and continue its excellent commitment to helping young people struggling with alcohol and drug addiction."
Teen Challenge Nashville Executive Director Norma Calhoun gave "God the glory," for Wednesday's ruling.
"It's a new day for us," Calhoun told The Nashville City Paper. She added that Teen Challenge would look to buy another piece of property for a new facility.
Although Nashville has to pay damages of nearly $1 million, the city still has two $50,000 claims from former Teen Challenge members pending trial.
The U.S. Department of Justice also took notice of Teen Challenge's case and earlier this year initiated an investigation into the city government's land use policies. That investigation is still pending.
Sources: ACLJ, NashvillePost.com, The Nashville City Paper