PRINCE WILLIAM CO., Md. (FOX 5 DC) - A battle between church and state is brewing in Prince William County.
A local church is suing the county, saying the county won't let them worship on their own property unless they jump through a few hoops first--including getting a liquor license.
Most churches in the county have to get a special use permit to operate their own building, but that often takes years and a lot of money. Alive Church was working on its special use permit when the pandemic hit, and that forced church leadership to get creative about where and how they could worship.
Pastor Allen Perdue asked the county if the church could operate like the local breweries and wineries that often don't have to get special use permits. Perdue said a county zoning administrator told him that one way to cut through the red tape would be to operate like an agritourism business--the church just needed to get a liquor license first.
The church, however, says they don't want to associate with alcohol.
"When the county said unless you get that ABC license, we can't let you worship on your property in this building," Perdue said. "But, you know, ironically, I could rent five breweries within, you know, 10 miles of my church and go there and worship every weekend."
Now the church is suing the county in federal court alleging unfair treatment based on their religious beliefs regarding alcohol.
"The effect is a hostility toward religion because the churches are non-profits. They're not going to be generating the tax revenue that breweries are and if that becomes a license for counties and zoning boards to treat churches less favorably, then the whole purpose, the policy reason behind the First Amendment itself," said Ben Sisney, the attorney for Alive Church.
FOX 5 has reached out to Prince William County officials for comment. The county attorney's office said that the county does not comment on pending litigation.