The City Walk Urban Mission filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Tallahassee on February 8, 2022. The lawsuit comes after the shelter’s permit application was denied some weeks ago. The denial of the permit meant that City Walk was operating out of compliance with city codes.
City Walk ( plaintiffs) claims that the City of Tallahassee ordinances and policies violates the shelter’s First Amendment rights, freedom of speech and religion.
City Walk seeks a declaratory judgment finding the City of Tallahassee ordinances, policies and practices to be unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Plaintiffs also demand damages against the Defendant for losses occasioned by the unconstitutional application of the City’s laws and policies against the Plaintiffs.
The lawsuit argues that the City Walk mission practices and expresses their religious beliefs through the operation of the homeless mission and that City Walk’s religious beliefs and religious practices have a free speech component.
Gary Edinger, the shelter’s attorney, told local media that “operating a homeless mission for this group is the expression of their religious faith, so it’s inseparable.”
In addition, the lawsuits alleges the following related to the City of Tallahassee:
— The CITY fails to provide sufficient sites to allow religious missions providing transitional residential services to open and operate.
— The Tallahassee Code sets up an impossible Catch-22 for religious missions: transitional residential facilities must not be located too close to residences but they also must be cited near public transportation such as bus stops which are invariably located near residential areas.
— The criteria used to deny CITY WALK’s application – namely a change in the character of the neighborhood – applies to any other location where CITY WALK may apply for permission to operate; there are no conforming locations in the City which would not experience a change in character of the community.
— Transitional residential facilities are barred from industrial districts which are effectively the only zones (other than rural agriculture lacking in infrastructure) where transitional residential facilities can be screened or segregated from commercial and residential neighbors.
Edinger said they expect the trial to begin with a briefing followed by oral arguments. They are also requesting the court to prohibit the city from enforcing discretionary zoning against the shelter until the end of the case. They expect the federal process will take around a month to complete.