SARASOTA, Fla (FOX 13) - A church in Sarasota County is suing the county, claiming discrimination against a religious school.
Englewood Christian School opened its doors at Crosspoint Church in Englewood in 2013. At the time, they say it was with Sarasota County’s full stamp of approval.
Since then, the school has grown to around 50 students.
“In 2016 the county of Sarasota came back to the school and said you have to have a special use permit in order to operate in this zoning jurisdiction,” said Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.
Without that special use permit, the church faced daily fines for not complying with zoning requirements.
At the same time, leaders started working to apply for the special exemption to operate the school on church property.
“The permit application fee itself is $7,500, and on top of that the church had to hire an engineer to do site plans,” Holcomb said.
In all, they shelled out about $10,000 preparing the application.
The County Planning Commission signed off on Crosspoint Church’s request, but at a Board of Commissioners public hearing back in November, members denied the zoning exemption.
“Secular charter schools can locate in that jurisdiction as of right now without asking any special permission from the county of Sarasota,” said Holcomb. “That’s fundamentally unequal treatment, that’s religious discrimination, and that violates federal law, and that’s why Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit on the church’s behalf.”
According to the lawsuit, at least two charter schools are currently operating in the same zoning district, and were not required to obtain a special-use permit.
Crosspoint Church has racked up about $40,000 in fines, and lawyers are suing the county to protect the school.
“This lawsuit is seeking to stop Sarasota County from discriminating against Englewood Christian School,” Holcomb said. “Englewood Christian School simply wants the freedom to operate in its own church building, and it wants equal treatment from its county government, which is what federal law requires.”
FOX 13 News reached out to Sarasota County, a spokesperson said they haven’t received the lawsuit yet and don’t comment on pending litigation.