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Calvary Church Calls On Del. Cole In Fight With City

After its lawsuit was dismissed against the City of Fredericksburg, Calvary Christian Church contacted Del. Mark Cole to sponsor legislation that would allow churches to have day cares and private schools without any special zoning permits.

Del. Mark Cole said today the government shouldn’t regulate religious activities in a church and that is the motivation behind a bill that would permit private schools and day care centers in churches without any government approval.

House Bill 1196 would directly impact churches like Calvary Christian Church that in 2010 sought a special-use permit to lease space to a day school serving children with developmental or emotional disabilities. The City Council voted in a 3-3 tie on the matter (Ward 3 Councilor Fred Howe abstained), and the measure was defeated.

“As long as it is not affecting the safety and welfare of the people involved or the community why should the government be involved with regulating it?” Cole said today.

Cole's legislation has upset some council members, including Howe, who wrote a personal email to Cole this weekend.

After council denied the application, Calvary Christian filed a lawsuit charging the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the right of religious liberty. City officials disagreed and the City Attorney’s Office released a statement last year that stated the council reviewed the application with fairness.

In August 2011, .

In November 2011, U.S. District Judge John Gibney dismissed the church’s lawsuit in a 15-page opinion, stating that students would have been taught a secular curriculum that isn’t necessarily protected as religious exercise.

"Calvary has not pled any facts demonstrating that the operation of the day school by a third party is a religious exercise. Talismanic assertions lacking factual support are insufficient,” the judge wrote.

Cole said the legislation originated from the request of local churches, one of them being Calvary Christian Church. Pastor Michael Hirsch declined to comment other than to say via email, “You’ll need to ask Delegate Cole what motivated Him. I have no comment but, I will inform our attorney who is handling the Court proceedings of your inquiry.”

The attorney representing the church could not immediately be reached for comment.

Cole said the zoning is not consistently applied across the state. “Some localities require special-use permits or rezonings and others take the attitude that if it is a part of their church then they don’t need to do anything with the zoning,” Cole said. “I think the legislation is good policy. I think it is up to the church to define the scope of their ministry.”

Councilman Howe, who also is running for city mayor, said today he does not think this is good legislation. Howe owns land that is adjacent to the church, and he sent an email to Cole on Jan. 21 expressing his concerns.

“I personally spent thousands of dollars defending my business against this particular issue you are sponsoring and I want to make sure you have all the facts,” Howe wrote.  “I assume Calvary [Christian] Church came to you to sponsor this legislation – you must take the time to see personally for yourself from our City Council video records exactly what our City has already witnessed with respect to opening this Pandora’s box by your proposed legislation at the State level (let’s learn from our recent and very expensive legal experience – please!) and what it would mean specifically to surrounding businesses, homeowner / tax payers who will be subjected to the fall out, if your bill is allowed to move forward. I sincerely hope you haven’t been privy to the Fredericksburg City Council proceedings and law suits that have been finally concluded on this matter – because I can’t imagine you would be sponsoring this bill if you had received full disclosure.”

Dan Telvock (Editor) January 23, 2012 at 08:06 PM
What do you all think about this? Is Cole right in saying the government shouldn't have a say in what a church wants to do within its walls when it comes to religious activities or do you think the city's denial was fair?
Dan Telvock (Editor) January 23, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Speak up, people. What are you thinking?
jaycob January 23, 2012 at 09:31 PM
im not a church going person nor do i have much faith. this has nothing to do with personal thoughts. the government shouldnt have there hand in the churches dealings. unless its nessesary. this isnt hurting anyone nor is it forcing its belifes on people. they should stay out of it and aprove this permit.
Michael Hirsch January 23, 2012 at 09:31 PM
For simplicity as well as clarity, consider breakinh the question into two parts please.
RonPaul2012 January 23, 2012 at 09:48 PM
There's no reason for the government to have say on the matter its only helping our community. There's nothing at risk or harm being done.
Dan Telvock (Editor) January 23, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Thanks for the comments so far: Here is the question: Why do you think the church should be able to have a day care or private school in the church without any government approval? Why do you think a church that already exists should have to get the government's approval to have a day care or school inside the church? I am really curious to hear what you all have to say.
TPKeller January 23, 2012 at 10:56 PM
In the August 23, 2011 Public Hearing portion of the Fredericksburg City Council meeting, Rev. Hirsch went on the record stating that: "he had chosen on [to] not make the school a religious school. It would be a for-profit school and the estimated taxes would be $20,000- $30,000 per year." See PP 16-17, from Minutes of Public Hearing 8/23/2011, http://fredericksburgva.gov/uploadedFiles/City_Council/Agendas_and_Minutes/8-23-11%20Public%20Hearing(1).pdf?n=8032 also available here: http://fredericksburgva.gov/departments/citycouncil/index.aspx?id=917 In spite of the easy assumption to make otherwise, this is NOT a religious use or discrimination issue.
Dan Telvock (Editor) January 23, 2012 at 11:56 PM
So far, overpowering YES to letting the church do this. Who did council listen to when it made the decision and where are these people?
Dan Telvock (Editor) January 24, 2012 at 01:50 AM
I am reading through all of the minutes now to glean additional info and I am seeing some very, very interesting comments made by some people, including the reverend's wife, such as it is a "God Use Permit." I wasn't aware God was involved in zoning maters and would be interested to hear more. Staff said the project is consistent with the comp plan, but Mr. Howe's attorney disagreed. There was a concern if the church staff were experienced enough to provide this service, but is that what the government should be considering when reviewing a SUP? If someone wants to open a restaurant that meets the comp plan, does council question if the chef can cook?
MichaEl Hirsch January 24, 2012 at 02:03 AM
Here is a perspective on this issue from a footnote from history in Virginia for this week - James Madison's defense of religious freedom began when he stood with his father outside a jail in the village of Orange and heard Baptists preach from their cell windows. Their crime? -Preaching without a license from the government. Madison wrote on the fate of more Baptist ministers to William Bradford, JANUARY 24, 1774: "There are at this time in the adjacent Culpeper County not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in jail for publishing their religious sentiments which in the main are very orthodox." Madison helped pass the Virginia Bill of Rights, June 12, 1776, endorsing "Christian Forbearance, Love, and Charity," which contrast with intolerant ideologies of religious apartheid, fundamental Islam, atheistic Communism or State-enforced secularism: "Religion, or the Duty which we owe our Creator, and the Manner of discharging it, can be directed only by Reason and Convictions, not by Force or Violence; and therefore all Men are equally entitled to the free exercise of Religion, according to the Dictates of Conscience; and that it is the mutual Duty of all to practice Christian Forbearance, Love, and Charity towards each other." Yes, that last quote is stil intact in our Virginia Constitution. Peace to all, Rev. MichaEl Hirsch Senior Pastor Calvary Christian Church Founder "Raising the BARS of Education" (TM) PS - More to come later....
Dan Telvock (Editor) January 24, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Only 6 people spoke at the public hearing and all but one were in favor of this. The only person against it was Mr. Howe's attorney and he said "The issue is whether the project is consistent with the City’s Zoning Ordinance and the Comprehensive Plan." The city's staff who are the professionals who analyze the comp plan every day said it does meet the comp plan. He cited a noise complaint (but there is no mention of noise complaints made to the code enforcement office, if any exist) . He cited a concern that the applicant does not have a license with Department of Social Services (DSS) or a license from the Department of Education (DOE). Rev. Michael Hirsch said that the claims about the DSS and DOE licenses were false. "Rev. Hirsch presented what he said was a letter of approval letter from the DSS that said Calvary Christian Church has filed the required documentation and that the program was in compliance with the requirements of the law effective January 28, 2011 to January 27, 2012." Tonight I received an email stating that the applicant had a "poor record of prior compliance" but I have not seen this record in the minutes. At the end, Councilman Solley is sharply critical of Rev. Hirsch, "that in all the years he’s been on Council and the number of contentious issues that have come before Council that people were very passionate about, but none have been as smugly, self righteously, patronizing, and insulting as he had been."
Dan Telvock (Editor) January 24, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Rev. Hirsch, I am not seeing any evidence at all that this is a religious discrimination issue. I've read through a lot of docs tonight and I didn't see any indication that council members were basing their decisions on religious freedom or lack thereof. I'm listening and will read all day and night if there's more to read.
MichaEl Hirsch January 24, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Hey Dan, glad to hear that you are reading the minutes, you have a good sense of humor, can the chef cook! This land use, nothing else. How can God not be interested in Zoning ordinances, reading 1 Peter 2:13, Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Susan's not only the reverend's wife but an ordained minister of the Saving gace of God through the Gospel of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ so it may be she is just the chef to stir up that thought! She's been cooking lessons for 25 years, one church, Qualified indeed! Let us consider the forebearance of one another's conscience in all good will. As President, Madison wrote July 23, 1813 in a National Proclamation of Public Humiliation and Prayer: "If the public homage of a people can ever be worthy of the favorable regard of the Holy and Omniscient Being to whom it is addressed, it must be...guided only by their free choice...as proving that religion, that gift of Heaven for the good of man, is freed from all coercive edicts." Suffice it to say that we have remained submitted to the local ordinances.
Dan Telvock (Editor) January 24, 2012 at 02:38 AM
The non-compliance concerns appear to be about Fairwinds, which was partnering with the church. "City attorneys counter that the Fairwinds school's history of zoning violations, rather than discriminatory concerns over disabled students, were a central and legitimate concern in denying awarding a special use permit." From here: http://fredericksburg.patch.com/articles/calvary-day-school-debate-gets-testy
MichaEl Hirsch January 24, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Calvary Christian Church has always complied. There is nothing in any record otherwise. Calvary is the only applicant in the SUP of 2011. Calvary made the application in 2010 in order to pursue a partnership with a State lisenced school under the United States Department of Education White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Pasrtnerships. As a member of 1st District Congressman Wittman's Pastor Advisory Council I had made a presentation at the Bragg Hill Communmity Coalition to Department of Education Director for the Center of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell. This continues to be an ongoing effort.
MichaEl Hirsch January 24, 2012 at 02:50 AM
Then how could they question if were qualified to operate a religious school? Keep reading and researching, you are doing a good job of keeping this issue in the public square.
Dale Swanson January 24, 2012 at 01:41 PM
I live behind a church that allowed a school to occupy it's space. Then Spotsylvania county allowed them to move in six more doublewides to house students. Next came the traffic, noise and litter. Soon the residents couldn't get down their driveway to get home. They couldn't enjoy their property because of the noise. The road was frequently totally blocked by school traffic picking and dropping off children. I attend Church and also teach Sunday school, before a Church decides to allow a school or a daycare to occupy it's space they need to consider how this action will effect their neighbors. Some churches don't love thy neighbors as thy self.
Dan Telvock (Editor) January 24, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Good to hear from you, Dale! Glad to see you still have your news sense and I hope you come here more regularly. My ear is always open (but I focus on city matters now, not so much Spotsy).
MichaEl Hirsch January 24, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Why not hear it from the applicant's perspective. As a result of the suit arising from the split decision denial in 2010, the City offered a good faith settlement agreement in Federal Court which required Calvary Christian Church to re-apply for another Special Use Permit in 2011. We did so as the sole applicant for our Religious School. We even agreed to become State licensed! Although Mr. Howe had recused himself in 2010 when the Church’s application was first being reviewed, he specifically stated on television (and recorded on DVD) that, "As I was in favor of the Day Care in 2009, I am in favor of the Day School, but I must recuse myself." (You can get the DVD from VTS and watch it.) Yet, in the article reported to the Patch yesterday, Mr. Howe is quoted as admitting to paying thousands to Lawyers to oppose the Church's Religious School SUP at both the Planning Commission and City Council meetings. Why? Under the previous application of 2010 we were willing to pay unrelated business income tax. What's wrong with that? You make any profit, you pay tax, it's the American way! Peace to all, Pastor MichaEl
MichaEl Hirsch January 25, 2012 at 04:23 AM
Hi Dan, Here is an interetsing piece of Pollster trivia, a fact verified by the State Board of Eelection results! The Poll now shows more votes in favor of Delegate Coles Bill than the number of voters who elected a City Council person in one of the Wards in the May, 2010 election! Outstanding! Delegate Cole is right, right on! Thank you for posting this! Peace to all, Pastor MichaEl Hirsch Senior Pastor Calvary Christian Church, Fredericksburg Founder, "Raising the BARS of Education" (TM)
MichaEl Hirsch January 25, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Perhaps those of the general public who did not see the proceedings at City Council would appreciate reading my sincere apology. Here is the text and the link to the City Council minutes of that night. http://www.fredericksburgva.gov/uploadedFiles/City_Council/Agendas_and_Minutes/9-13-11%20Public%20Hearing(1).pdf?n=8889 Pastor Michael Hirsch Statement to City Council Good evening Mr. Mayor and members of the City Council. I want to make a short statement tonight to cover a couple of points in regard to the application for a Special Use Permit. First, the motto of our church says that “The Road to Calvary is paved with forgiveness.” In light of that motto, I want to follow up my private apologies to each of you and publicly apologize and ask for your forgiveness for my conduct at the City Council hearing on this matter on August 23. I made the mistake of letting my passion for the day school cloud my better judgment. I wish my speech would have been seasoned with more grace and patience. It was not my intention to cloud or confuse the issue and I regret if anything I said did so. As the letter my attorney submitted to you stated, we wish to work together with the City and have attempted to clarify any confusion I may have caused in my remarks on August 23. (Continued...)
MichaEl Hirsch January 25, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Second, I want to publicly state that I am more than willing and able to commit to the proposed Special Use Permit conditions and commit to being transparent and accountable with the City staff and its leaders regarding any of the proposed SUP conditions. Our Elders, as the governing power of the church also hold unanimous agreement with this commitment of transparency and accountability and it is my desire to help the City enforce the SUP conditions and I commit to doing whatever I can in my power to make that process easy. Finally, I want to urge you to adopt the proposed SUP. I request that you give me the opportunity to show you how transparent and excellent our program will be. We want to demonstrate that we can have an excellent track record with operating Fairwinds Day School from our facility. Thank you. I have asked my attorney, Matthew Fender, from McGuire Woods to be present to answer any questions you may have concerning the SUP application, so I will turn it over to him.
MichaEl Hirsch February 05, 2012 at 07:24 PM
The potential benefit is tremendous! HB 1196 does not exempt religiously-exempt childcare centers or private schools from existing regulations. In 1979 the Virginia codified section 63.2-1716. Now in Virginia there are 1,003 Religious Exempt Child Day Centers (RECDC)operated by Religious Institutions under this section. They must conform to all building codes, be issued an Educational Occupancy Permit, pass all Local, State, and Federal Safety Inspections and are regulated under the Virginia Department of Social Service for continuing compliance. They may be inspected unnanounced and must be re-inspected annually. Tens of thousands of other Virginia Religious Institutions would be be able to provide onsite comprehensive itegration of vital services in every County, City & Town. Private schools are regulated by the Commonwealth, the Virginia Board of Education has authorized the Virginia Council for Private Education to accredit private schools. (§22.1-19) Private Schools for students with disabilities must be licensed by the Board of Education unless otherwise approved or accredited and facilities must be inspected and approved by the Board. Va. Code Ann. § 22.1-319 et seq. Every Religious Institution compliant building would be able to open their doors to provide services without one dollar of tax money, while cutting down on infrastructure. The Governor's vision & US DOE Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships embrace this plan!
MichaEl Hirsch February 09, 2012 at 09:49 PM
It was good to see the supporters step up today. A strong coalition is forming. House CC&T Subcommittee 2, after a fair hearing recommends laying HB 1196 on the table.

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