LINCOLN — A Walthill, Nebraska, church has sued the Village Board, claiming that it has blocked the church’s attempts, without “legitimate basis,” since 2014 to build a new church on the small town’s main street.

The Light of the World Gospel Church, in a press release Tuesday, said it had purchased several buildings on the northeast Nebraska community’s main street so it could demolish them and build a new church for its 150 members but said the village “is trying to keep this church off” the main thoroughfare in the town of 780 people.

“Light of the World Gospel Ministries wants to invest in and help revitalize this diverse community by tearing down dilapidated buildings and provide a new space that would serve the community,” said Roger Bryan, a lawyer for Texas-based First Liberty Institute, a religious freedom group that filed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also maintains that Walthill Village Board Chairman Michael Grant said he wanted the church to be built in a residential area, so the village could reserve main street for redevelopment by the Omaha Indian Tribe. Grant could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

KayCe Hollman, deputy village clerk of Walthill, said the village would have no comment. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, was delivered Tuesday, and village officials have not yet seen it, she said.

The Light of the World Gospel Church now meets in a converted funeral home on Walthill’s main street. After purchasing several vacant buildings across the street, the church obtained a building permit to build a new church on that site, but the permit was later revoked by the Village Board.

The federal lawsuit claims that the church’s “beliefs and practices” were among the reasons the building permit was revoked and later requests to demolish the vacant buildings were refused. The village, the lawsuit maintains, has violated both the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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