ACLU of Texas Supported Pastor’s Effort to Overturn City Ordinance that Restricted Religious Freedom

Contact: Dotty Griffith, Public Education Director, ACLU Foundation of Texas
(512) 478-7300 x 106 or (512) 923-1909; [email protected]

AUSTIN – The ACLU of Texas today celebrated today’s ruling by the state’s highest court as a victory for religious freedom.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Pastor Rick Barr who challenged an ordinance passed by the City of Sinton (Barr v. City of Sinton) to close a half-way house for low-level offenders across from the pastor’s church, Grace Christian Fellowship.

“Today's decision is significant because it is one of the Court's first cases to affirmatively construe Texas' Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA),” said Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU of Texas.

The ACLU of Texas and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief on half of Barr and Philemon Homes, Inc., a nonprofit faith-based facility designed to house and help rehabilitate offenders released from state custody. Seven months after the Homes began operating in 1998, the City of Sinton enacted an ordinance specifically directed at Pastor Barr and the Homes, forbidding the operation of a correctional or rehabilitation facility within 1000 feet of a church--in this case, Pastor Barr's own church.  In today's decision, the Supreme Court rejected the findings of two lower courts and held that the City's ordinance impermissibly burdened Pastor Barr's religious freedom.

"This decision sends a strong message to state and local governments in Texas that the Court will not tolerate state action that targets a religious group, whatever their faith," said Graybill. The court’s ruling upholds the intent of the RFRA to prevent state and local government officials from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion, including religious practices and religiously motivated conduct, without a compelling justification for doing so, she explained.  "This is a major victory not just for Pastor Barr and Philemon Homes, but for all Texans who cherish religious freedom."