Christians in Temecula, Calif., are fighting a county proposal that would effectively ban churches – or the expansion of the area’s only current church – in a 19,000-acre “Wine Country Community Plan.”
Hundreds have already voiced their objection at the first of two public meetings on the development plan; reportedly more than 3,000 have written letters to the county; and that single church, Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship, with the help of the nonprofit law firm Advocates for Faith & Freedom, is gearing up to file a federal lawsuit against what it says is a gross violation of religious freedom in America.
“It’s unethical and unconstitutional,” area resident Lilly Brown Walter stated publicly at the planning meeting, according to the Riverside, Calif., Press-Enterprise. “There is a silent majority who will not tolerate that. There are plenty of people poised and ready to take this to the end.”
The Wine Country zone was first created years ago by Riverside County to protect its economically critical vineyards and wineries. But in 1999, local vintners publicly contested Calvary Chapel’s attempt to build a church in the Wine Country when the congregation grew too large for the barn where its services had been held.
Though the church was allowed to construct its building, the county shortly thereafter passed an ordinance banning any further church construction in the Wine Country – a fact Calvary Chapel didn’t discover until its zoning request to expand facilities was denied earlier this year.
Now Riverside County is looking to expand Wine Country by nearly 12,000 acres to allow growth of another 60 wineries and construction of roughly 1,000 homes.
But if Wine Country expands, so expands the reach of the ban on churches.
Advocates for Faith & Freedom reports that Calvary Chapel’s pastor, Clark Van Wick, attempted to meet with local vintners to avoid a controversy like the one in 1999 that led to the ban in the first place.
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