By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
August 19, 2016
RALEIGH – A Pro-Life group, A Hand of Hope ministry, has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Raleigh. The non-profit organization claims the city violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by denying their rights to religious liberty, free speech, and equal treatment under the law.
Hand of Hope is a pregnancy resource center. On their website under “Who We Are,” they say, “We are committed to being a voice for the voiceless, sharing Christ in a real way to expectant parents and regardless of the outcome – doing it all again tomorrow.” Their primary mission is to discourage women from having an abortion and to educate and assist them with alternatives.
The ministry wants to move into property that they own on Jones Franklin Road, which is next to Preferred Women’s Health Center – an abortion clinic. Its leadership argues that the move would help them save money by relocating from their current rented office space about a mile down the street in West Raleigh. The move would require the city to rezone the property from under its present zoning code of residential use only to commercial.
The proposed relocation of Hand of Hope has been highly controversial; angering the abortion clinic providers who claim it will subject them to unwanted scrutiny by pro-life activists and supporters.
The Raleigh News and Observer (N&O) reports that pro-life groups “often protest the clinic on Jones Franklin Road.” But according to Tonya Baker Nelson, Hand of Hope’s founder and executive director, “none of them are Hand of Hope staffers.”
Nelson has sought to reassure opponents of the move that Hand of Hope will not allow their property to be used for protests against the abortion clinic. “She has said her group in no way condones or practices harassment of pregnant women or abortion clinic staffers,” reports the N&O.
Hand of Hope had to first take their request for the move to Raleigh’s City Planning Commission back in May. The Planning Commission would determine if it met the city’s development guidelines.
The Commission’s Chairman, Steve Schuster, said the commission didn’t wade into the politics of the request, but stayed focused on whether it was consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan and land-use map. There was no reason to believe it wasn’t, and the commission approved the request unanimously and referred it to the City Council.
In July, the Raleigh City Council rejected the request, but cited the same city codes that the Planning Commission had used to approve it.
Councilwoman Kay Crowder said Hand of Hope should rezone as part of a larger commercial project to fit in with the city’s future land use. “This coordinated approach would produce a more efficient use of the land,” she told the N&O. “In contrast, this lot-by-lot, piecemeal, non-residential development will produce small scale offices on small lots.”
While abortion providers celebrated the decision, the N&O reported that Nelson was “shocked” by the City Council’s decision, saying, “From all our research, it looked like our request fit right into (the city’s development guidelines), and we were following all the rules laid out for us, step by step.”
According to LifeSiteNews, Heartbeat International President Jor-El Godsey, said, “The city council has certainly chosen an interesting place the draw the line in its newly announced zoning plan – right on the property line of an abortion clinic that takes the lives of hundreds of preborn children each year.”
National Right to Life News Today reports that the City Council and its attorney are defending the denial of the request, arguing that the council has “wide discretion” on the best use for Hand of Hope’s property.
National Right to Life News further says:
“The lawsuit, however, claims that the City’s power and discretion is limited by the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act. This federal law was passed in 2000 after Congress uncovered wide-spread discrimination against religious organizations’ land use regulations across the country.
“’The City Council is not above the law and tried to hide their political power play. Thankfully, the federal law was put in place to prevent politicians from masking their political preferences behind broad discretionary regulations,’ said attorney Noel Sterett of Mauck and Baker in Chicago, representing Hand of Hope.
“’I hope we can all agree that our freedoms, property rights, and a woman’s right to be fully informed should not be subject to the political whims and discretion of a few city council members,’ added Sterett.”
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League said the practice of abortion has always claimed so-called legitimate reasons for women to have them.
“The claim may be health problems, rape, incest, bad timing, coercion by family members, etc., etc. But the real reason is because it’s the easier course and the life inside them interferes in some way,” said Dr. Creech. “In the Hand of Hope case, they veil the real reason for not allowing a pregnancy resource center next to an abortion clinic with a spurious zoning argument. The alternative to life located directly beside the choice of death is obviously not welcome. Isn’t that ironic? Abortion is always about zoning out life.”
The read Hand of Hope’s case against the City of Raleigh, click here