Press Release

Church Wins Legal Battle Against Tax-Hungry City Hall

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

Washington, DC.- Today, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the Elijah Group, an Christian church prohibited from worshipping in its building because that building was located in a retail district. Becket represented the church against the City of Leon Valley, Texas, which refused to allow churches into its retail zone, but welcomed businesses like auditoriums, convention centers, private clubs, and movie theatres. According to the City, it would be “very undesirable for a large church to displace sales tax generating business/commercial property . . . and have a giant ‘hole’ in a retail area.”

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Leon Valley’s actions violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)—a federal civil rights law that protects churches. “This victory sends an important message to city hall: you can’t treat churches like second-class citizens solely because they don’t generate tax revenue,” said Luke Goodrich, Deputy National Litigation Director at Becket, who argued the case for the church. “If a city lets people assemble for shopping and entertainment, it has to let them assemble for worship, too.”

The Fifth Circuit invalidated the city ordinance under RLUIPA’s Equal Terms provision, which forbids local governments from treating “a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.” As the Fifth Circuit explained, “Try as we may, we cannot reconcile [city’s] treatment of a church differently than a private club.” Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit found that the city’s actions violated the church’s religious freedom.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at  or call 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.


Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, including  Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians.