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Religious Litigation Arises in Baltimore County

BALTIMORE (WJZ)-- Two places of worship are suing Baltimore County after their construction plans are shot down.

Baltimore County is facing two federal lawsuits, one from a synagogue, the other from a church, on the grounds that their religious rights are being violated.

The buildup to this battle had been brewing for years.

Hunt Valley Baptist bought land with the hopes of building a new church, but five years later, it's still empty.

Outspoken homeowners forced the County to reverse a decision that would have allowed the church to build.

"As folks presented some opposition to that, that of course took us by surprise that some people wouldn't want a ministry, something that is designed to help people," said Pastor Caleb Bottrell of Hunt Valley Baptist Church.

According to the pastor, the location off Shawan Road is ideal because of its visibility to traffic. But it's that traffic that's become a turnoff to some of the people who are opposed to the construction.

"I just don't think it's appropriate for this neighborhood, particularly for the single lane traffic on Shawan Road," said resident Dolores Shaw.

Residents also had another concern, that a church that size could bring septic tank issues.

"We are not against churches. This is a pretty religious community to begin with, of all religions and we welcome everyone," said resident Bill Marlow. "What we are concerned about is one, the lack of transparency on their part and the size of the structure."

Hunt Valley Baptist's current church is about a mile away and the pastor said they need more space inside and also for parking as the congregation expands.

"We are just going to have to take one step at a time," Bottrell said .

The church body prayed before moving forward with a lawsuit.

"You know, disappointed that it had to reach this point. Certainly not an action that a church would take very lightly, but the current situation has brought us to this point," Bottrell said.

WJZ contacted Baltimore County and a spokesperson said they cannot comment on pending litigation.

WJZ also contacted the synagogue and was referred to their attorney, who has not returned calls.

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