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Church sues community to construct new facility

8/18/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

CHICAGO (UMNS)-Vision United Methodist Church, a predominantly Korean-American congregation, has filed a $5 million lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging the Village of Long Grove, Ill. has "maliciously" worked to stop development of a new church.

The congregation purchased 27 acres of unincorporated land in Lake County three years ago for the purpose of relocating and building a worship facility. The property is located at the corner of Gilmer (Route 83) and North Kruger roads. The congregation currently shares a facility with another United Methodist church.

Justification for the suit is based on the First and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act of 2000. One provision of the act prohibits burdensome land-use restrictions on houses of worship.

The 120-member congregation has "been rebuffed and rejected at every point by the Village of Long Grove to build a church," said John Mauck, an attorney specializing in religious law who is representing the church.

The Village of Long Grove describes itself as "an oasis that the rapid advance of urban sprawl has not penetrated," according to its Web site. It goes on to say that "a cherished feature of Long Grove is the privacy its residents enjoy. This is due to rural zoning and emphasis on the retention of natural vegetation on both public and private property alike, which ordinances zealously protect."

Mauck said, at the time the property was purchased, the church sought permission to build a new facility and was denied. At that time, the municipality refused to annex the church-owned property. When the church sought permission from the county, the village then forcibly annexed the property by buying up land around the property, thus preventing the county from granting permission to build a church, he said.

"The church, showing great Christian patience, reapplied to the village and was turned down a third time," Mauck said.

"We have followed up to their every demand, and they have denied us," said Han Cho, a member of the congregation and chairman of the church's building committee. "The lawsuit is our last choice."

"It is the Korean church's tradition to establish churches in order to exhibit a Christian culture," Cho said. He pointed out that the area has no Korean United Methodist churches.

Mauck described Long Grove Village as a municipality that prides themselves on very tight zoning control and very low density. It is largely a residential area of upper-income homes. "The proposed church would be the first non-Caucasian church in the area," he said.

The Northern Illinois Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church is considering joining in the lawsuit to show support for this local church, said Sam Witwer, conference attorney.

"The conference is greatly concerned about the violation of this local church's rights in attempting to relocate and construct a church," he added.

Mauck said it very encouraging that the church at the conference level is considering joining the suit to stand behind this local church.

"They are going out there and fighting for everybody," he said.

"Long Grove is the giant Goliath trying to squash young David (and) David has had enough," said Mauck. "This is one of the most malicious, mean-spirited, and systematic attacks on a church that I have ever seen by a government. America belongs to Americans, not to elitists who distain the Constitution."

The manager of Long Grove Village, David Lothspeich, said he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit and was unable to comment.

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