Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron v. City of Fairlawn, Ohio, 2000-01
For nearly a year, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron was forced to battle the City of Fairlawn, Ohio in federal court in order to build a fellowship hall on property the church has occupied since 1958.
The church was originally established in nearby Akron in 1839. At the time the church moved to the current site, the Village of Fairlawn had not yet been established. In 1993, Fairlawn adopted a new zoning ordinance, and created three municipal zoning districts, with only one district, M-3, permitting churches. Even there, however, they required special authorization for any construction or modification to existing buildings.
So when the Church asked for authorization to build a new fellowship hall and was denied, it filed a lawsuit arguing that Fairlawn’s implementation of its zoning code amounts to a ban on churches and an unreasonable restriction on the completion, restoration, reconstruction, extension or substitution of preexisting churches. Such burdens, they argued, violate the Constitution and RLUIPA.
The Fairlawn City Council buckled and voted 5-1 to approve a settlement with the Church that gave it everything it had asked for, including legal costs. The constitutional rights of the church, and all the other houses of worship the council had zoned out, was affirmed, and the Church now enjoys a bustling fellowship hall for its activities.