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Catholic group prevails in legal fight over ‘Prayer Trail’ religious displays

In a recent federal appeals court ruling, a Catholic group in southeastern Michigan has won the right to display religious exhibits along a privately owned “prayer trail” depicting the final day of Jesus.

Genoa Township had initially demanded a special-use permit, considering the project akin to a church building, which the group contested. They proposed a chapel and trail, but it was rejected. Catholic Healthcare International, which controls the property, filed a lawsuit, leading to the court’s decision.

The appeals court unanimously upheld the group’s right to treat their prayer trail as a recreational area. The court ordered the restoration of the religious displays by September 23rd.

Associated Press reports:

A Catholic group will be allowed to post religious displays along a privately owned “prayer trail” depicting the last day of Jesus, after a zoning fight with a local government in southeastern Michigan went all the way to a federal appeals court.

The court ruled 3-0 in favor of the group and issued an injunction Monday, saying Genoa Township in Livingston County was likely violating the rights of Missouri-based Catholic Healthcare International, which controls the 40-acre wooded parcel.

The township had said a special-use permit was needed because the project was the equivalent of a church building. The religious group objected but ultimately responded with a plan for a chapel and trail after spending thousands of dollars on the application. It was rejected.

Catholic Healthcare obtained the land from the Lansing Catholic Diocese to create a trail with the Stations of the Cross, 14 stops that commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus.

Stations of the Cross stayed up until the township in 2021 persuaded a state judge to order removal. Catholic Healthcare, meanwhile, filed a lawsuit in federal court, invoking a law that protects religious groups in zoning matters.

In the unanimous opinion, the appeals court said the group rightly believed that its prayer trail would be treated like any other recreational area in the township.

Read the full article.

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