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Hawaii church heads to court in federal land use case

Posted: Friday, August 02, 2002

HONOLULU (AP) -- A church is asking a federal judge to let members continue worshipping on agriculturally zoned property while its religious liberty lawsuit against Maui County is pending.

Hale O Kaula, affiliated with the Living Word Fellowship, is suing under the federal Religious Land Use Act of 2000, aided by the Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The Maui Planning Commission twice denied the church's application for a special use permit to hold religious meetings on agricultural land. Attorneys said agriculture is a key part of the church's tradition, which teaches children ''stewardship of the land.''

The religious group's attorneys said the federal law requires towns to show a compelling interest, such as public safety, before denying a religious group's zoning request. The county challenges the constitutionality of that law, though the Justice Department has intervened in the case to defend it.

A county attorney argued there was a ''compelling public interest'' in denying the permit because the property lacks adequate water supply and road maintenance. The church said it is willing to meet infrastructure requirements.


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