San Diego

Church That Operated Irenic Accuses City of Religious Discrimination: Lawsuit

The church also claims they must acquire concert venue permits that they do not need as a religiously exempt institution

The church that housed and operated the popular music venue "The Irenic" is accusing the City of San Diego of religious discrimination after the city delivered a cease and desist message in September.

Missiongathering Christian Church in North Park claims it opened the Irenic as a way of providing a religious outreach for the surrounding community and so it should be exempt from applying for concert venue permits and renovating safety features due to its religiously exempt status, the lawsuit said.

The city's earlier notice listed nearly 30 safety and permit violations each with a penalty rate of $300 per day. Cumulatively that amounts to over $7,500 every day if the Irenic were to continue operating without correcting the violations.

Some of those violations included a lack of required emergency lighting, exit signage, fire alarms and fire extinguishers. Find the full list of violations here.

The church noted it has operated for years without trouble until 2019.

According to the church, the city's enforcement "of this unconscionable fine" is trying to prevent the church from operating, the lawsuit said.

The church also claims the city is forcing it to acquire concert venue permits that it does not need as a religiously exempt institution.

"The City's position that the Church must cease the use of music for worship and outreach places a significant and substantial burden on the Church's free exercise of religion as it inhibits the Church's ability to worship," the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit also mentions that the Irenic’s music shows offer a "wide variety of performances from musical artists, including non-religious performances."

Those non-religious performances provide "a local outreach to attract individuals who would otherwise avoid the Church due to their predispositions related to Christianity," it added.

The lawsuit also cited the Bible's language about the connection between music and worship as evidence of the Irenic's "religious assembly" designation.

The church claims the Irenic economically supports church operations such as Street Angels, an organization that helps homeless young adults by supplying them with basic necessities.

CJ Dixon commented in September on the possible shutdown of the weekly homeless shelter, "If they shut this down, they are taking resources from a lot of the people that benefit from this organization."

The church, represented by lawyer Jennifer Bursch, is located at 3090 Polk Avenue in North Park.

When asked for further comment, the City of San Diego said it is not at liberty to comment on ongoing litigation.

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