Christian Church Discriminated Against, Says ACLU

Charging the city of El Centro with discriminating against a Christian church, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties sent a letter yesterday afternoon to El Centro’s City Attorney to inform the City that its current zoning ordinance, which is prohibiting the local church from moving into a downtown building, violates federal law.

Iglesia Cristiana Rio de Dios (River of God Christian Church), led by Pastor Raul Jimenez, has outgrown its existing building and made plans to move to a new location in downtown El Centro. The move was stopped, however, because of an archaic city ordinance that allows youth groups, social clubs and lodges to be located downtown, but not places of worship. The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties claims that this ordinance, as it stands, violates the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which prohibits land use regulations that unfairly discriminate against religious organizations.

“Rio de Dios is just looking for a new place to worship. The City has no good reason to stop it from opening a new church. If El Centro wants to revitalize its downtown, houses of faith, clubs, and youth groups are a great start,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the San Diego/Imperial ACLU and author of the demand letter. “The City is breaking a federal law that Congress enacted to protect religious freedom.”

The ACLU is no stranger to fighting ordinances that violate RLUIPA and discriminate against religious entities. In 2006, the ACLU of Southern California won a case in which the City of Garden Grove tried to halt the construction of a Buddhist Temple. For a complete list of the ACLU’s work defending freedom of religion, visit the ACLU’s website on

ACLU’s lettter to the city of El Centro