Walthill church suing village leaders for violating federal and state laws
A northeast Nebraska church is in an unusual fight over its plans for a new building.
In federal court that Walthill congregation said the village of Walthill is illegally blocking its efforts.
Light of the World Gospel Ministries filed a lawsuit on Tuesday and the church's lead pastor says it comes after the village violated both state and federal laws.
In this town of 750 people, you can find up to 130 people attending the church service every Sunday.
"We have a lot of local people, we have people who travel an hour, an hour 10 minutes to come to the church," said Paul Malcomson, lead pastor.
The former funeral home, which sits on Main Street, was converted into a church about ten and a half years ago.
Fast forward to today, the church has outgrown the building.
"We have about 25-50 kids in our church and as you can see, this room is not big enough to hold the amount of kids that we do have," said Malcomson.
Lead Pastor Paul Malcomson said their efforts to expand, started five years ago, when the church purchased a number of buildings directly across the street to build a new church. That church, would've been eight times the size of the current building.
"We applied for a building permit, which was originally accepted then six months later, they took it away from us," said Malcomson.
In addition, the village denied other permits to the church that would allow them to tear down dangerous structures that could be threatening to anyone on or around the premises.
Paul said while there is no valid reason for their decision, he believes the village had an agenda to stop their church from expanding.
"The complaints that were made against us, were religious complaints, which to me I believe they were prejudice," said Malcomson.
Earlier this week, the church filed a lawsuit against the village saying they violated state and federal laws.
"It's very outrageous that the village would prohibit this church from using their own building that they own," said Hiram Sassar, First Liberty Institute's General Counsel who is representing the church.
"And won't even let them tear it down and make the improvements necessary in order to serve their growing congregation and serve their community," he continued.
Just a few months ago, this building collapsed into rubble and still hasn't been cleaned up yet.
"And why the village prefers safety hazards over a growing church is very confusing," said Sassar.
Despite their decision, Paul is hopeful that the village will come around and follow federal law.
"It is not our heart to fight the village, we want to work with the village, cooperate with the village and turn this village around," said Malcomson.
Federal law states that a village cannot stop a church from expanding its congregation for discriminatory purposes.
Now the Walthill board members are not giving any comment at this time.
I also reached out to the Village's attorney this afternoon, but have not heard back yet.