A move by the city to revoke a catering permit for secular events at an Upper East Side church is a violation of the First Amendment's free exercise of religion clause, lawyers for Third Church of Christ Scientist charge in a lawsuit.
Filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the suit follows the New York City Department of Buildings's decision last week to revoke a temporary assembly permit that allowed for the events at the church, situated at 583 Park Ave. at East 63rd Street. In January 2006, the church and an outside caterer began hosting events in an effort to raise cash to pay for renovations. Within months, nearby residents began protesting the permit and charged that the events brought too much congestion and noise to the area. The permit was originally granted in June 2006 for "accessory use," but the city said in a letter sent to the church last week that the events created a commercial establishment.
Lawyers for the church charge in the suit that the city has "arbitrarily and selectively interpreted and enforced the city's zoning code and land use laws."
Late yesterday, an attorney for the church, Victor Kovner, requested from District Judge Deborah Batts and was granted a temporary restraining order to allow the church to hold its events until the two sides appear in court early next year. Spokeswomen for the city law department and the buildings department said they could not comment.