Federal Lawsuit Filed against Genoa Township, Michigan to Defend Religious Liberty

(Detroit, MI – June 2, 2021) – Today, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Genoa Charter Township and the Township’s Ordinance Officer, alleging that the Township and its officials violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Michigan Constitution, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) when they denied a religious organization the right to build a modest chapel (St. Pio Chapel) and prayer campus on its 40 acre property located within the Township and when they demanded that the religious organization remove all religious symbols from its property, including the Stations of the Cross and an image of Santa Maria delle Grazie (“Our Lady of Grace”).

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of Catholic Healthcare International (CHI) and its President, Jere Palazzolo.

AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise commented:

“Our nation was founded by religious refugees in search of religious freedom.  Consequently, places of religious worship, such as CHI’s proposed St. Pio Chapel and prayer campus, hold a special place in America.  The Township’s rejection of our clients’ right to religious worship on CHI’s private property is not in keeping with our proud tradition of accommodating people of faith, and, in fact, it violates our clients’ fundamental rights protected by the United States and Michigan Constitutions and federal statutory law.”

As noted in the lawsuit filed in federal court, the adoration chapel (St. Pio Chapel) planned for the CHI property will be a modest, 95 seat, 6,090 square foot chapel.  The parking lot will contain only 39 parking spaces.

The St. Pio Chapel will contain a tabernacle, which is a liturgical furnishing used to house the Eucharist outside of Mass.  A tabernacle provides a safe location where the Eucharist can be kept for the adoration of the faithful and for later use.  Canon Law requires a tabernacle to be in a secure location, such as the St. Pio Chapel, because it helps prevent the profanation of the Eucharist.  Without the St. Pio Chapel, CHI is unable to carry out a core function of its religious activities.

The St. Pio Chapel will be a place where people can come to pray, attend Mass, and adore Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  The prayer campus is not a high-volume site.  It is a place where people can come and walk the trails and pray.  One trail, for example, will allow visitors to pray the Stations of the Cross.  The proposed development will retain the rural atmosphere of the area, and it will promote the quality of life.

The St. Pio Chapel will be approximately 600 feet off of the nearest public street.  CHI is preserving most of the property to allow for trails on the property and to allow people to find peace in the natural surroundings.  CHI is only building on approximately 5 acres of the 40-acre lot, and this development is largely in the open area of the site.  In other words, CHI’s proposed development will maintain the rural character of the property.

AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi, an Orthodox Jew, noted:

“This case represents the hostility Jewish and Christian groups now face in America.  When Jews or Christians seek to modestly employ their religious liberty, they are subject to unlawful denials and restrictions.  The last refuge of liberty must be the courts . . . because if not, civil society is no longer.”

As set forth in the court filings, the Township and its Ordinance Officer had no legal basis to reject the proposed development of the St. Pio Chapel and prayer campus, and they had no legal basis to order CHI to cleanse its property of anything religious.  The United States and Michigan Constitutions and federal statutory law prohibit such acts of religious discrimination.