Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cicero Hispanic Church Forced to Sue in Federal Court to Protect First Amendment Rights

Cicero Hispanic Church Forced to Sue in Federal Court to Protect First Amendment Rights

1,000 member Mennonite church, Sonido de Alabanza, alleges deliberate roadblocks from Cicero officials to stop its expansion and additional services for the needy

CICERO, Ill., Feb. 18 /Christian Newswire/ -- At a time when social services and counseling are needed for hurting people, the town of Cicero wants people to keep on hurting. Today, the Sonido de Alabanza Church (SDA), affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA, charged there has been a violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, along with federal and Illinois state religious land use rights. They filed a suit because, after repeated attempts for two years to complete the church's application for a building permit with Cicero's building project manager, Craig Pesek, the town continues to delay the process. While the Cicero zoning code clearly allows for a church on the property, Cicero's failure to cooperate has exposed the church to increased costs of construction and prevented the church's ministries from growing by restricting attendance. The suit was filed today in the United States District Court in Chicago. The new church property at the center of the suit is located at 5534-5543 W. 25th Street, Cicero, Ill. Its current location is at 5510 W. 25th Street, just down the street from the new property.

Chicago attorney John Mauck, who is representing the church in the federal litigation, said "In two decades of civil rights litigation for churches, rarely have I seen a pattern so repressive of religious practice, assembly and speech. This church simply wants to feed the hungry and mend broken people. However, Cicero officials actually walked through the church's parking lot and checked the vehicle stickers to see how many members come from Chicago rather than Cicero. Such actions tell me officials are more concerned with staying in power than with respecting religious and property rights."

Cicero Employs a Double Standard With Zoning Approvals

Ironically, while the SDA church has experienced two years of delays, a nearby liquor store on 35th Street, which acquired land at the same time as the church, has not only had plans approved but has completed construction and is open for business.

"Cicero's leadership made more room for Jim Beam Whiskey, but doesn't seem to have the heart to let a church feed its people for free," said Esdras B. Ferreras, Pastor of SDA Church. "Our ministry of feeding people in the community who are hungry, both physically and spiritually, has been stalled because we are not allowed to use the property we purchased. We filed this lawsuit at this time, not only to get action on our building permit but also to let the people of Cicero know about this outrageous behavior by city officials so they can be better informed when they vote next Tuesday."

Legal Justification for Suit

Justification for the suit is based in part on the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Federal Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act of 2000 and Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Interview Sources:

John Mauck, Mauck & Baker 312-853-8709 Pastor Esdras Ferreras, Sonido de Alabanza, Church 708-780-1170

A copy of suit is available upon request by contacting: Thomas Ciesielka: 312-422-1333,

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