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Christian church sues Castle Rock for shuttering temporary housing ministry

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Derek Draplin

(The Center Square) – A Christian church in Castle Rock is suing the town for allegedly shuttering the church’s programs to provide temporary shelter for the homeless.

The Rock Church operates an RV and a camping trailer on its 54-acre property in the town as a part of a ministry to provide temporary housing for the homeless and a partnership with the Red Cross for emergency housing situations.

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According to the church’s complaint, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court, the town notified the church that the RVs were in violation of the town’s zoning laws and could not be used for housing that’s not “parsonage.”

The church argues the town’s actions are in violation of its constitutional rights.

“No history or tradition justifies the Town’s intrusion into the Church’s property to dictate which portions of the Church’s property may be used for religious purposes or how the church may go about accomplishing its religious mission,” the complaint states. “More generally, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, made applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits governmental hostility to religion.”

The complaint also alleges that last month town officials tried to shut down an onsite coffee shop in a retaliatory move, leading to a local coffee business the church was partnering with to pull out of their agreement.

A spokesperson for the town said it has not yet received a copy of the complaint.

"However, the Town is in the process of retaining defense counsel to rigorously defend the zoning authority of communities," the spokesperson said. "Otherwise, the Town does not comment on pending litigation."

Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for the First Liberty Institute, which is representing the church, said, “Churches that take action to care for the homeless should be encouraged and affirmed, not opposed and retaliated against. It’s not enough for the town to try to stop this church from using its property to provide temporary shelter to displaced single moms and their children. The town is also trying to prevent the church from partnering with the Red Cross in times of emergency.”

Mike Polhemus, the church’s pastor, said in a statement: “It’s shocking that the town is preventing us from providing temporary shelter and wrap-around assistance to people who are in their greatest need, thus helping to reduce homelessness in our community.”