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Church files lawsuit against Dorchester County, county officials

Published: Nov. 21, 2021 at 10:21 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 22, 2021 at 4:55 AM EST
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DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - A Dorchester County church is suing the county and several people in the zoning department for allegedly violating the church’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

That new lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court argues the issue began back in March of this year. The suit alleges Dorchester County and two county officials have been violating Lowcountry Baptist Church’s constitutional right to Freedom of Religion and Equal Protection under the Law.

According to the lawsuit, Kelly Lewin, the minister of events at Lowcountry Baptist, organized a social event at the church on Beech Hill Road in Summerville.

The suit states Keira Reinertson, who’s the director of planning and zoning for the county, told Ron Pappas, the zoning code enforcement officer, to break up the church function. The lawsuit says Pappas told them there was a noise complaint from a neighbor and asked members to leave, so the church meeting ended and everyone went their separate ways.

According to the suit, three months later in June, Dorchester County issued a ticket for that violation in March.

The lawsuit says the church property is zoned as office and industrial use and that having a church there is allowed.

But according to the suit, Pappas told the church they will continue to get ticketed if they hold any church events there in the future. The lawsuit alleges the county mistakenly believes church events are not allowed on the property.

The plaintiffs are arguing the county and its officials have prohibited events and ticketed Lowcountry Baptist solely over the church’s exercise of their Freedom of Religion.

The lawsuit says members of Lowcountry Baptist Church can’t practice their First Amendment rights with the possibility of citations from Dorchester County.

The suit alleges the county and its officials will allow some churches to worship without interference but not Lowcountry Baptist, which the lawsuit says is discrimination against the religious content and viewpoint of the church.

According to the lawsuit, Lowcountry Baptist wants the court to prevent the county from prohibiting the church gatherings. The church is also asking to be compensated for damages and other fees.

We reached out to the county for comment. County spokesman Craig Lloyd tells us, “Dorchester County is not aware of any pending litigation with Lowcountry Baptist Church.”

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