Lawsuit filed over old Heritage U.S.A. tower

Fort Mill church accuses York Co. of religious discrimination in legal battle over Heritage Tower

YORK COUNTY, S.C. — A Fort Mill church has filed a lawsuit against York County claiming religious discrimination and "anti-Christian" bias in the battle over the Heritage Tower on the former PTL property.

Morningstar Church occupies the former site of Heritage USA, once run by televangelist Jim Bakker.

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A decaying piece of Bakker's former PTL empire still stands on the property that once was Heritage USA in Fort Mill.

The church that now owns that property sued York County, claiming religious discrimination and anti-Christian bias.

Morningstar Church claims the county has blocked all of its efforts to try to renovate the 21-story landmark, known as the Heritage Tower.

Just in- Morningstar Church in Fort Mill has filed a lawsuit against York County claiming religious discrimination and '...

Posted by Greg Suskin, Channel 9 on Thursday, November 15, 2018

Our South Carolina bureau reporter, Greg Suskin, learned Morningstar Church filed the suit Wednesday, claiming the county strong-armed it into an agreement with no intention of allowing it to move forward with plans to renovate the tower.

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The church is seeking damages and an injunction to prevent the county from taking any steps to tear it down.

A previous suit was filed several years ago over the controversy, but it was never resolved.

The unfinished tower is a remnant of the former Christian theme park that Jim and Tammy Bakker built in the 1980s.

The 500-room tower was under construction when the PTL ministry collapsed amid a sex scandal and criminal charges that sent Jim Bakker to federal prison.

Morningstar Church has been trying to renovate what they see as a sacred building.

"Everything dedicated to the Lord is sacred," said Rick Joyner, pastor of Morningstar Church.  "This can be a special place."

Morningstar Church bought the property in 2004 and spent $15 million to renovate much of the campus.  The Heritage Tower was the final piece to be restored.

The church sits like a ghostly landmark, falling into disrepair, now surrounded by homes, some of them right in its tall shadow.

In 2007, Morningstar Church announced plans to renovate it into a Christian retirement complex.

York County required the church to sign an agreement detailing the cost and where the money would come from.

The county found the church in default on that agreement two years later.  The county claimed, at the time, that the church couldn't prove it could get the financing for the project.

A lawsuit followed but was never settled.

Now, the church is suing again, accusing the county of religious discrimination, claiming that's the only reason that county could have for not allowing the church the permits to go forward with its plans.

"This is the last thing we wanted to have happen, but it was the last straw. We have nowhere else to go," Joyner said.

The lawsuit names former County Council Chairman Buddy Mot, and former County Manager James Baker as defendants, along with the county government itself.

Morningstar Church claims the county wanted to force the church to tear down the tower, and never intended anything else.

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