Dolton church sues village over plans to relocate, judge asks both sides to talk settlement

A Dolton church has sued the village and Mayor Tiffany Henyard, saying it has been blocked from efforts to remodel a building to use as a new home for worship services.

Redeemed Christian Church says it was denied necessary permits needed to continue rehabbing property it bought at 703 E. Sibley Blvd., and was required to apply for a business permit although the church is nonprofit, according to a lawsuit filed this month in federal court.

The church more recently asked a judge to issue an injunction to allow it to move ahead with fixing up the building.

During a hearing Tuesday in Chicago, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Cummings told the village to respond to the motion for an injunction, but also asked both sides to try to settle the matter, according to attorneys for the church and village.

John Mauck, an attorney representing the church, said Redeemed Christian is willing to sit down to work out a settlement, but said the church’s position is “there is no chance to settle unless the village allows the church to worship in its building. That is non-negotiable.”

“Fundamental freedoms are being denied,” Mauck said.

Michael Del Galdo, an attorney for the village, said he was not authorized to comment on the village’s behalf and referred questions to an outside public relations firm. The firm said it received the Daily Southtown’s request for comment and would review it, but did not immediately respond to the lawsuits’ allegations.

Del Galdo said the judge entered a briefing schedule to allow the village time to respond and required the village to respond to the church’s settlement demand by Friday.

The village also offered to take part in a settlement conference “in an effort to find common ground” with the church, according to Del Galdo.

The Chicago-based law firm of Mauck & Baker is representing the church in the religious discrimination lawsuit, which was filed March 5 and alleges, among other things, violation of due process and willful and wanton conduct on the part of village officials.

The lawsuit accuses Dolton officials operating under Henyard’s command in the deliberate illegal treatment of the church, which is in violation of the municipality’s own zoning ordinances that allow a house of worship at the location, Mauck said.

Redeemed Christian Church said it has been operating from rented space at 233 E. 138th St. in the village for 10 years, paying $1,000 a month.

The church was formed in November 2008 and initially met at the South Holland Community Center.

As of May 2023, the church had more than 80 members, but that has dwindled due to uncertainties about the church’s future home, according to the lawsuit.

Mauck said questions about whether the church will be able to relocate have hurt attendance and membership.

“It’s confusing and it’s damaging to the church,” he said.

In February 2023, a decision was made to move to a larger home and the Sibley Boulevard property was purchased that June, according to the lawsuit.

The building is the former home of Compleat Cyclist, a business damaged in 2021 when a car dragging a police officer crashed into it after a dispute at a nearby drive-thru.

The church paid money into escrow to make repairs, but at one point during renovations was told it needed to get a business license from the village, according to the lawsuit. Although an application for a business license was completed by Stephen Osunkeye, the church pastor, in July 2023, no license has been issued, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit says without the business license, the church also can’t get licenses from Dolton for electrical and plumbing work needed to complete repairs.

When Osunkeye went to Village Hall to file for the business license application, he was told by William Moore, the village’s Housing Department director, that he doubted it would be approved, according to the lawsuit.

Moore allegedly told the pastor the application wouldn’t be approved because Dolton’s mayor wanted to keep Sibley Boulevard — a busy retail corridor — preserved for commercial uses, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also cites an exchange between the pastor and Keith Freeman, village administrator, from an Aug. 30, 2023, Village Board meeting. Freeman allegedly told the pastor the village would not approve a business license and that “they could have anything in there except a church,” according to the complaint.

Osunkeye sent a letter dated Jan. 5 of this year asking about the status of the church’s license applications, but did not receive a response, according to the lawsuit.

Mauck said that Dolton has 21 days to respond to the motion for the injunction and that the judge set a May 8 status hearing.

The attorney said the church is willing to negotiate with the village on items such as monetary damages and attorney and other legal fees, but that “the absolute right to worship the Lord by this church at this location, we are absolutely firm on that.”