County Forbids Land Owner From Using His Private Chapel

Reverge Anselmo lives in Shasta County, California, about twenty miles east of Redding.  He owns the Seven Hills Land and Cattle Company and has a vineyard on the property.  Anselmo decided to build a chapel on his own property that was only for the use of him, his family, friends and employees.

Shasta County officials decided that Anselmo was not allowed to build a chapel on his own property, even if it was for his private use only and not open to the public.  They issued a Red Tag Stop Order that banned Anselmo from using his private chapel.

Why should county officials care if a private landowner, outside the city build and use a chapel for private worship?  Anselmo is not opening his chapel up to the public or generating heavy traffic.  Or are they upset that a private citizen is exercising his constitutional rights to freedom of religion?

Liberty Institute feels the same way and has filed legal action against the Shasta County Board of Building Appeals.  The brief filed in the case reads in part:

“…without the use of his private chapel, Mr. Anselmo and his family, friends, and employees will be without the religious facilities that [he] believes are necessary for his free exercise of religion.”

Jeff Mateer, General Counsel for Liberty Institute summed up the case, saying:

“We informed the officials from Shasta County that their failure to grant the appeal would violate not only the Constitution, but would violate federal law including the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.”

“Local governments may not impose or implement land use regulations that either substantially burden a person’s use of the land for religious exercise, or that treat religious land use on less than equal terms with non-religious land use.”

If this goes to court and Shasta County is found guilty of violating Anselmo’s religious rights, county could end up having to pay for damages and attorney fees.  Liberty Institute points to the similar case of Reaching Hearts Int’l, Inc. v. Prince George’s County in which county ended up paying over $3.7 million in damages and attorney fees.

We can only hope that Shasta County officials see fit to drop their stop order and allow Anselmo to use his chapel for his own worship.  If not, I can only hope that they end up losing the case and end up having to pay Anselmo several million dollars in damages and attorney fees.  Maybe then they’ll think twice about violating someone’s constitutional rights to freedom of religion.