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Church leader stands firm on Religious Freedom

By Lois Krafsky-Perry, News Editor
Citizen Review    (citizenreviewonline.org)               

January 24, 2007

Clallam County, WA   “Why?  It is religious freedom and our primary interest is children,” said Reverend Michael Van Proyen, as he presented county commissioners with over 1,000 signatures in support of a proposed youth camp in Sequim.

Approximately 40 people attended a public hearing/appeals, January 23 in Port Angeles regarding a proposed settlement for King’s Way vs. Clallam County, (Jefferson County Clause No. 04-2-00372-4). The church’s suit is under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person’s Act and is also referred to as RLUIPA.

The Church plans are to build an adequate youth center/camp on Kitchen Dick Lane Road, where the Foursquare Church is located, on six acres.

Clallam County Commissioners had settled their decision in January 2006, and allowed the plans to continue for the camp; but according to Jefferson County Judge Crad Verser, it had not had adequate public notice and he ruled an objection in Jefferson County.

Van Proyen, who has pastored the church for almost ten years, spoke at the January 23 hearing, where he called the matter “a civil rights issue,’ while those opposing the camp cited “land use issues” as the main complaints. Several people testified in favor of the proposal and determined it a religious right or civil rights issue. 

One church member stated that land issues had already been settled in the past 7 years.

“We believe in our faith. We are asking you to settle this.  We are an evangelical Pentecostal Christian Church, an international Church of the gospel,” Van Proyen said.

“I believe this settlement is fair and kind.  This is not a land rights issue, but a civil rights issue,” re-affirmed Van Proyen.

Several times the pastor used Bible references.  He spoke of forgiveness and offered that gift to the county.  “We have chosen to forgive the county of damages we incurred.  We had $300,000 in attorney fees last year.  He said with money spent and more to be figured, it could amount to ¾ of a million dollars. “That is a lot of money that has damaged our church,” he said.  He also stated that many thousands of dollars had been spent on environmental impact studies addressing water.

“This is the Christian way to go, I believe,” he affirmed as he reminded the commissioners that forgiveness is a very important matter to him and the Church.

“We have been and will continue to be a blessing to the community.” Van Proyen assured the commissioners.  He said the Church is a Red Cross shelter and they signed a contract with them. The Church has 75 beds. 

The Church also has lent out parking to groups as well as allowed parking to trail users. 

Van Proyen presented a letter supporting the camp plans from representatives of Sequim Valley Airport. He said a neighbor donated over $18,000 in trees, which were planted on church property.  She had originally signed a petition against the camp several years ago and later changed her mind when she realized what a strong influence the Church had on her son’s life.

Approximately $70,000 has been given to the needy, to people for rent, power, and food, and to meet other needs. According to Van Proyen, 40 percent has been outside his congregation.

“We are a blessing to this community,” he stated.  The church has activities on October 31 for young people, this past year hosting 700 children and families.  “In nine years, we have not had one complaint,” he said.

Van Proyen referred to a message from the Bible. “Who is my neighbor?  The good Samaritan--- the guy that helped,” he declared.

Craig Ritchie, attorney, argued that the matter is a land use issue.  Ritchie insisted that the situation is “quasi-judicial” and he questioned commissioners as to whether there has been contact or information between them and the church leader in the past year. He recommended they be disqualified from decisions if this be the case.  Steve Tharinger stated, for the record,  that there was no discussion of facts between him and Van Proyen.  The pastor stated for the record that he and commissioner Mike Chapman had not spoken for over a year.
Clallam County Prosecuting attorney Mark Nichols “include on the record--- proceedings today should not impact today’s hearing. All should participate and continue,” he said.

Van Proyen said that Kings Way has been a retreat center since 1992 and is recognized by the Department of Revenue and the State of Washington.
“Here we are, seven years later, not compromising what we believe in our faith.  We are asking you to settle this,” said Van Proyen.

The pastor said he had met with neighbors who have property adjacent to the Church and none of them objected to the camp plans.

Referring to the Words of Jesus Christ, Van Proyen made this appeal. “Do not forbid children to come unto Me.” 

He urged the commissioners to make their decision for the children as they also support their local school levy.

He quoted that slogan, “Now more than ever, say yes to kids.”

Commissioners have allowed more time for letters and public testimony.  The deadline for testimony is January 26 at 4:30 PM. They will make their decision at a later date, which will be announced.


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