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Redeemer Fellowship of Edisto Island v. Town of Edisto Beach

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

March 18, 2019

Redeemer Fellowship of Edisto Island, Plaintiff,
v.
Town of Edisto Beach, South Carolina, Defendant,
v.
The United States of America, Interested Party.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on Redeemer Fellowship of Edisto Island's (“Redeemer Fellowship”) motion for a preliminary injunction, ECF No. 5. For the reasons set forth below, the court finds the motion for a preliminary injunction and Redeemer Fellowship's request for permanent injunctive relief in its complaint to be moot. Redeemer Fellowship's claim for damages remains.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts of this case are simple. Redeemer Fellowship began meeting in January 2018 on Sundays for worship services in the garage space underneath the stilt home of one of its members near Edisto Beach. Due to its growing size and inability to protect against inclement weather at this location, Redeemer Fellowship sought to rent the Edisto Beach Civic Center (the “Civic Center”), which is operated by the Town of Edisto Beach (the “Town”). On February 14, 2018, a representative of Redeemer Fellowship contacted Kelly Moore (“Moore”), who was responsible for managing the Civic Center, with a request to use the space for its worship services. In March, Moore approved Redeemer Fellowship's application to rent space at the Civic Center, and Redeemer Fellowship paid $200 for the rental. On April 1, 2018, Redeemer Fellowship held its first worship service in the Civic Center auditorium.

         On April 9, 2019, Redeemer Fellowship submitted another request for use of the Civic Center's auditorium as well as one multi-purpose office. Moore approved the church's request to use the Civic Center for its May 6, 2018 worship service, and Redeemer Fellowship paid the Town another $200 fee. On May 3, 2018, Redeemer Fellowship paid another $300 to reserve the Civic Center auditorium for its June 3, 2018 worship service. On May 10, 2018, the Town Council met to discuss whether to approve or deny the request, at which time the Town Attorney advised the Council to reject the church's request and to amend the Edisto Beach Civic Center Facility Use Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) to prohibit rentals for religious worship services so as to not violate the Establishment Clause. The Town informed Redeemer Fellowship that its application had been denied and refunded the $300. On June 14, 2018, the Town Council officially amended the Guidelines to provide that:

         The Edisto Beach Civic Center welcomes civic, political, business, social groups and others to its facility. The auditorium, the gallery/lobby area, two multi-purpose rooms, and/or the grounds may be scheduled for use provided:

• Such use does not interfere or conflict with previously scheduled programs or normal operation of the Center;
• Such use is in accordance with local, state, and federal laws and ordinances governing the Center; and
• Such use conforms to applicable policies, guidelines, and procedures in effect at the Center.
Such use shall not be for the purpose of religious worship services

         Challenged Guidelines, ECF No. 1-5 (emphasis added). The Guidelines also stated that the Civic Center “reserves the right to deny a request” and that “such refusal . . . may be for, but is not limited to, any one of the following reasons: . . . [a] determination that the event could be disruptive, hazardous to persons or the Center, or is unlawful or a breach of peaceful circumstances.” Id. Redeemer Fellowship claims to have pursued other options to rent space on Edisto Island but was unable to locate another suitable rental space for some time.

         Redeemer Fellowship filed suit on August 27, 2018, alleging the following causes of action: (1) violation of the right to free speech under the First Amendment; (2) violation of the right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment; (3) violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; (4) violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (5) violation of the Due Process Clause. ECF No. 1. With its complaint, Redeemer Fellowship also filed a motion for preliminary injunction. ECF No. 5. The Town filed a response on October 9, 2018. ECF No. 17. Redeemer Fellowship filed a reply on October 16, 2018. ECF No. 18. The United States filed statement of interest in support of the motion on November 20, 2018. ECF No. 24. The Town filed an affidavit in opposition to this statement of interest on November 28, 2018. ECF No. 26.

         On November 29, 2018, the court held a hearing on this motion. On December 14, 2018, the Town filed supplemental briefing, informing the court that it has rescinded the challenged language from the Guidelines and asking that the court find the motion for a preliminary injunction to be moot. ECF No. 28. On December 19, 2018, Redeemer Fellowship filed a reply in opposition. ECF No. 29. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for the court's review.

         II.STAND ...


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