HOLLY SPRINGS, MS (abc24.com) - Banning God's house. A small Mississippi church is battling its hometown over the right to worship.
An ordinance in Holly Springs makes it illegal for churches to operate downtown. One local pastor has been fighting it for almost a year now. He asks if there's room for museums, liquor stores and cigarette shops...why not a church?
The pastor has won an appeal in federal court. He's now waiting for a judge in Oxford to rule on whether his church can open.
"We have a mission to reach out to this community and share the love of Christ," says Pastor Telsa DeBerry of Opulent Life Church. "I want to be in a location where we're in walking distance for people without transportation. It (downtown) is ideal for the ministry vision we have."
He believes Holly Springs zoning law stands in his way.
For the last year, church members have met in borrowed space. DeBerry signed a lease on a downtown building last summer and has been fighting the city to move in ever since.
"There's a beer and cigarette store next to the property and a liquor store next to that. And the church is the one that's being relegated off the square. It baffles me to understand that," DeBerry tells abc24.com.
"It's way better than a liquor store," says local shop worker Kimberly Autry.
Resident Jacquita Myles disagrees. "It really is not the spot for it."
DeBerry believes it is.
Downtown is filled with vacant buildings. He has plans to renovate the space, saying the church wants to help revitalize the area.
"All we want is what's good for the city. Another reason I'm taking on this suit is it's just not healthy for the city to take a posture that is anti-church."
His lawyers say it's illegal.
"They're not allowed to have an ordinance that excludes churches, but allows other similar non profit types to be there like museums and libraries," says lawyer Hiram Sesser. He adds the ordinance violates federal law.
"You'd think they'd be doing the right thing and say look forget it the church can move in and we want to stop spending all this taxpayer money fighting a church from moving in to a half vacant downtown area."
We tried talking with city about this case. The mayor referred us to a lawyer who says the zoning law is fair and that Holly Springs has every right to the ordinance. We had more questions, but the city's lawyer refused to go on camera.
The judge is expected to make a ruling soon. We will continue to follow this story.