• An Arizona state appeals court ruled that county officials acted properly in prohibiting a church from using a warehouse that it constructed without a special use permit. The church purchased 40 acres of land, obtained a valid building permit from the county and made various improvements. Later, without obtaining a building permit, the church constructed a large, steel-sided building for use in printing and distributing King James versions of the Bible to persons worldwide. The 40 acres were zoned for rural use, but one of the permitted uses of the land was as a “public assembly for religious worship.” The county claimed that the church’s warehouse was in essence a “manufacturing” operation which was allowable only upon the issuance of a special use permit, and that without a permit the warehouse was a “nuisance” and its use could be prohibited by law. A trial court upheld the county’s action, and the church appealed. The church raised three arguments on appeal: (1) the warehouse was a permitted “place of religious worship” rather than a manufacturing operation; (2) the warehouse was a permitted “accessory use” of the church; and (3) the county’s action violated the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom. The state appeals court rejected all three arguments. As to the first claim, the court concluded that the warehouse was not a “place of religious worship” according to the “common, plain, natural and accepted” meaning of those words, but rather was a manufacturing operation. As to the second claim, the court simply ruled that the church had failed to raise it in the trial court and therefore could not raise it on appeal. As to the third claim, the court observed that it the first amendment guaranty of religious freedom “does not preclude government activity such as building and zoning regulations as applied to religious organizations.” In responding to the church’s argument that its religious beliefs “prohibit it from seeking state permission to operate its God-commanded ministry,” the court noted that the church had obtained a permit to build its sanctuary. It observed: “We are at a loss to understand why such religious beliefs should not by the same token prohibit it from seeking state permission to build its place of worship, which is equally a ‘God-commanded ministry.'” Cochise County v. Broken Arrow Baptist Church, 778 P.2d 1302 (Ariz. App. 1989).
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