The Evanston, Illinois, City Council on June 28 rejected a compromise agreement worked out with Vineyard Christian Fellowship that would have allowed the congregation to hold worship services in an office building that has been the center of a two-year zoning controversy.
Vineyard purchased the commercially zoned building in 1997 and requested a zoning variance to allow worship services. The city council refused, citing loss of property-tax revenues (CT, Oct. 26, 1998, p. 23). Vineyard filed suit against Evanston, claiming unfair application of zoning laws violated a constitutional right to religious assembly.
Earlier this year, Vineyard proposed a compromise— to open a daycare center and provide $25,000 worth of services to the community in lieu of property-tax payments.
Three weeks before the June vote on the compromise, council members told Vineyard the city wanted a $35,000 annual cash payment added to the compromise agreement, to offset lost tax revenues.
During a lengthy and contentious June 28 council meeting, other community religious leaders voiced strong opposition to the cash payment, calling it a "pay to pray" or "worship tax." Vineyard has a year to decide whether to pursue court action. In the meantime, the church is looking for other sites to hold its worship services and exploring options for leasing out the space earmarked as the sanctuary.
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