Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
For more than a century, the Florida town of Cassadaga, just 35 miles from Orlando, has existed as a metaphysical mecca for spiritualists — members of a 150-year-old religious cult based on communicating with the dead. Two years ago, this sacred home to mediums and healers gained center stage in a contentious battle after a Christian group asserted its right to build its church there. A recently reached settlement ends the fight and gives rise to the first non-spiritualist house of worship in Cassadaga. During heated public hearings, the spiritualist community had pressured the Volusia County Council to reject the Christians’ bid, arguing that their church would disrupt the cosmic harmony and vibrations in the town. After being refused, the Dunamis Community and Outreach Ministries responded with a federal lawsuit on May 31, 2001, claiming that the denial of zoning violated its rights under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). Dunamis Community & Outreach Ministry v. Volusia County Council, No. 01-CV-643-ORL-28-DAB (M.D. Fla.). A report by the assistant county attorney swayed the council to accept the settlement, which includes $38,000 for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees. Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Fla.-based public interest law firm, represented the plaintiffs. General Counsel Mathew D. Staver and litigation counsel Erik W. Stanley argued that the denial of the church violated the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion and RLUIPA’s provision that religious entities must be treated as equal to secular ones in zoning codes. “Even if you are given equal treatment, the question is whether the decision by the government burdens your freedom of religion,” Staver said. “If it does, then the government must have a compelling interest and do so in the least restrictive way.” Assistant County Attorney Matthew Minter, the author of the report that recommended that the county council settle the action, conceded that “perhaps this whole thing got off on a bad foot.” Minter said the spiritualists were concerned about preserving the historic community of Cassadaga and feared proselytizing by the Christians. They also worried that the church ministry to correctional facilities and drug rehabilitation would lead to an on-site recovery center for convicts and addicts, said Minter. As part of the settlement, the church agreed that it must repetition the town to provide contract services as a drug- or convict-counseling facility or to build a school. “One main reason I made the recommendation to the council was because our zoning did not permit houses of worship as a matter of right,” Minter said. The plaintiffs challenged the county’s action on five counts — three constitutional challenges, RLUIPA and Florida’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. “My concern in the final analysis was more about the straight equal protection challenge than the federal regulation,” Minter said. Douglas Laycock, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Texas, who testified before Congress during the RLUIPA hearings, said that the act has added clarity to religious protection laws. Before RLUIPA, the leading Supreme Court case was about sacrificing animals, said Laycock, “and it was all too abstract in general.” With the dawning of RLUIPA, Laycock said a number of zoning authorities need to rethink their codes. The Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp was founded in 1875 by George P. Colby, a medium from New York, who claimed to have been guided there by a Native American spirit called Seneca. Spiritualists say they are drawn to the 57-acre hamlet overlooking Spirit Lake. The 60-member Christian church will be located within a mile of the camp when it is built sometime within the next year.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.