SAN LEANDRO, Calif. --
Sundays at Faith Fellowship Church, Pastor Gary Mortara calls on God's
help to heal the sick, repair torn marriages and rescue lost souls. But
when city officials here rejected plans to move his growing congregation
to a bigger building, Mr. Mortara turned to another authority: the
Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In April, the court, in
San Francisco, answered his prayers, ruling that San Leandro may have
violated federal law by refusing to amend its zoning code to accommodate
the Pentecostal congregation. It was a broad reading of a 2000 law
giving religious groups the power to ask courts to set aside land-use
regulations they believe interfere with their expression of faith, and
it now stands as precedent throughout the Ninth Circuit, a nine-state
region sprawling from Montana to Hawaii.
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