County heading toward dangerous future

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 3, 2002

On April 8, 2002, the Shelby County Commission will be voting on a bill that will decide the future of churches in Shelby County.

The Commission will vote on putting into the hands of unelected officials the power to say yes or no to every church desiring to build or relocate in our county.

Here are some facts every Christian church member needs to understand before this vote takes place. No political spin. No political double-talk. Just facts.

The people who will be making the decisions will not be

accountable to the people of Shelby County. They are appointed by

the Shelby County Commission, not voted on by the people.

Churches will be required to spend tens of thousands of dollars on plans, drawings, etc. with the understanding that the Commission could refuse to allow them to build.

This committee will have the absolute right to accept or reject the proposal for any reason they choose. If they decide to reject it because they don’t like the religion of the church, the race of the church or the size of the church, they may do so, even though they would never admit to such reasons for denying a church the right to


The only way you could ever prove the invalid reason would be by going to court. The fact is as a practical matter, they have total authority to do as they please.

So, if the Commission turns a church down, the recourse the church has is to take the Commission to court and the church is responsible for attorneys and court costs for the church and maybe for the Planning Commission.

If this becomes law, it will effect churches and only private and Christian schools. It will not effect public schools. Public schools are a state agency and do not and cannot fall under the guidelines of the county. It took me five minutes and a call to an attorney at the Southeast Law Institute to get this information. Anyone telling you something different is either lying or misinformed.

The Planning Commission was in the process of dealing with the

issues this bill is designed to solve. It would deal with all the concerns neighbors have and would apply to all construction in areas such as residential neighborhoods. Churches would be able to build just like they always have, with all the concerns of the neighborhoods dealt with in advance, and would enable the church to know in advance of the requirements. For some reason, this approach was halted, and this new level of unaccountable bureaucracy is being pushed.

Zoning Commissions all over the United States are using their authority to keep churches out of areas where people are.

Last week a judge in California ordered a man fined $50 per day for every day he held a prayer meeting in his home. People have been harassed, fined and even threatened with arrest for having Bible studies and prayer meetings in their homes. The reason: noise, traffic and not zoned for churches.

Some people are going to tell you these things could never happen here.

Please, please, please don’t buy that lie. This can and will happen here.

I know that because they are already happening all over the country. If the churches don’t stand up and stop this now, we will find ourselves having to fight for the right to build churches in Shelby County and fighting a small minority of anti-church and anti-Christian bigots that would like nothing more than to shut down all churches in Shelby County.

If as a Christian you want to be at the mercy of an unallocated board when it comes to whether your church can or can not build then simply do nothing. If this is offensive and frightening to you, as it should be, you should:

Call your county commissioner and let him or her know you expect them to vote this down and work with the churches to come up with another solution to this real problem.

Call every church member you know and make sure they call their

county commissioner and do the same thing.

Let the Commission know that if they vote to pass this bill we will do all in our power to do what the City of Birmingham and the City of Columbiana did and vote them out of office.

Be at the Shelby County Administrative Building in Columbiana,

Monday, April 8 at 8 a.m. if you plan to speak against this bill. The

Commission meeting starts at 8:30 a.m.

Make no mistake about it.

This is an anti-church and anti-Christian school and private school bill. If we do nothing we will pay a terrible price.

The people who believe in the freedom of religion without government intrusion can stop this if we all speak out. If the people who are on the County Commission won’t stop it now, then we can get them out and put people there who can do what needs to be done.

Please don’t sit by and do nothing. Call and be at this meeting.

If this bill passes it may not affect your church now, but it definitely will in the future.

Allen T. Dennis is the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Columbiana