State Law Protections Granted to Religious Groups Don't Provide Challenging Special Use Exception

Updated: Apr 6


Image by Edwin Remsberg.  Aerial image of Glade Haven Farms LLC, showing dairy barns, grain silos, and pastures.
Image by Edwin Remsberg. Aerial image of Glade Haven Farms LLC, showing dairy barns, grain silos, and pastures.

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In this post, I want to highlight a state court decision out of Indiana. In House of Prayer Ministries v. Rush County Board of Zoning Appeals, the Indiana Court of Appeals found that the county’s zoning authority board did not violate House of Prayer’s religious rights under state and federal protections when granting a special exception for Milco Dairy to build a new dairy facility in the county.


Background

In 2015, Milco sought a special exemption to a Rush County ordinance to build and operate a new concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in the county. The proposed CAFO was to be a dairy with 14,000 head of cattle with open-air lagoons to hold 17.4 million gallons of waste, and the dairy would have no run-off. Milco included plans on how the dairy would mitigate and reduce its noxious odors, plans which had been approved by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and local officials.


The county held two hearings in 2016 on this permit request. At the hearings, House of Prayer appeared to protest the permit request formally. House of Prayer operates a church camp on a property one-half mile and downwind from the proposed dairy. The camp argued that the waste would produce odors which would make the dairy a nuisance to the camp, create a risk for campers, and reduce the camp’s property values.


After the hearings, the county granted the special exception subject to conditions. After the approval, House of Prayer filed for judicial review of the decision. The district court denied this petition and House of Prayer appealed to the state Court of Appeals.