King’s Tabernacle sues Johnston, Nascenzi

King’s Tabernacle sues Johnston, Nascenzi

JOHNSTON – King’s Tabernacle Church filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the town of Johnston after giving town officials time to correct their “opposition to the church” and address the “racist conduct” of Zoning Official Ben Nascenzi.

Nascenzi also serves as part-time building official in North Providence.

Early last year, King’s Tabernacle purchased the 124-year-old church located at 500 Greenville Ave. from the Belknap Community Church. However, the town would not allow the predominantly African-American congregation to meet at its new property without a “special use permit.” Even though the church building had been used for religious assembly for more than a century, the Johnston Zoning Board of Review voted unanimously last June to deny the church zoning. The church appealed the denial to the Superior Court. That appeal is still pending.

After the denial, Nascenzi was caught on video “making foul and racist” comments about the church’s “black” ownership, states a release. Mayor Joe Polisena offered to meet and apologize, but ultimately the town chose to retain Nascenzi and did nothing to correct its zoning decision.

“This is 2016. This the United States of America. This type of government behavior is outrageous and should have been corrected immediately,” said Rev. Chris Abhulime. “Though the laws have certainly changed for the better since 1891, the heart of man has remained the same - which is why Jesus’s message of repentance and forgiveness for our sins remains such good news.”

The federal lawsuit was filed by Mauck & Baker LLC, a Chicago law firm which litigates religious land use cases across the country, and Warwick attorney Andrew McKay. The lawsuit challenges the town’s discriminatory zoning code, which freely permits non-religious assemblies, like theaters and concert halls, at the church’s property but does not freely permit religious assembly.