Oregon county accused of religious discrimination

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EUGENE, Ore. — A Christian group trying to expand a faith-based addiction treatment center has filed a suit in federal court alleging that Lane County discriminated against it.

A dispute over the expansion revolves around the facility’s sewage system, the Eugene Register-Guard reports.

Teen Challenge International says the county’s land-use rules discriminate against people with disabilities, and a county permit denial is religious discrimination.

The county says it’s not at fault.

“We are taking the lawsuit very seriously, but we don’t think the county has liability for the claims that are stated in the lawsuit,” spokeswoman Anne Marie Levis said.

The Missouri­based group operates almost 200 centers, including five in Oregon. It established Hannah’s House on a five-acre parcel it bought in 2007 southwest of Eugene. It applied for a permit to expand in 2008.

The center is now limited to five residents. Teen Challenge wants to have 20 in a program to treat women with addictions.

Two neighbors opposed the expansion. The county twice approved it, but the state Land Use Board of Appeals overturned the decisions.

Most of the issues were cleared away in those proceedings, but the wastewater question remained.

The suit said Teen Challenge lined up testimony that the effluent would not exceed residential levels and offered to agree to a condition on the permit requiring a state-approved septic system if it did.

A hearings officer said there was no new data to show that the center’s wastewater would meet the appeals board’s requirement and denied the permit.

Levis said the land use process isn’t complete yet, with additional rulings expected from the appeals board.

The suit says the denial of the permit violates the group’s right to free exercise of religion because land-use rules treat religious institutions differently from nonreligious institutions and unreasonably limit religious “assemblies, institutions or structures.”

It says county land-use rules discriminate based on disability because they set standards for group homes for people with disabilities, including addiction, different from those for homes of the same or greater size for families.

No trial date has been set.