Second Circuit: Islamic Group’s RLUIPA Claims Not Ripe Under Williamson County

The Second Circuit recently issued a Summary Order in Islamic Community Center for Mid Westchester v. City of Yonkers Landmark Preservation Board (2d Cir. 2018) detailing what zoning relief a plaintiff must seek at the local level before filing suit.  The case involved the Islamic Community Center of Mid Westchester’s (ICCMW) claims that it had been the target of religious discrimination when the property it purchased to develop with a mosque was designated as a landmark by the City of Yonkers Landmark Preservation Board.  Four months later, ICCMW sued, alleging the landmark designation violated its First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion and RLUIPA.

The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (also known as “ripeness”), since ICCMW did not apply for a certificate of appropriateness to develop the property as a mosque.  Continue Reading

North Carolina City’s Zoning Code Amendment “At The Cross”-Road of RLUIPA Claim

Recent amendments to the zoning code of the City of Monroe, North Carolina (the “City”) are unconstitutional, according to the Complaint filed by At the Cross Fellowship Baptist Church (the “Church”), a congregation of approximately 30 people established in 2017, which describes itself as having “a calling to serve the Monroe, North Carolina community.” Continue Reading

Supreme Court Says Bon Voyage To Trump Travel Ban Challenges

Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated decision in Trump v. Hawaii, 585 U.S. ___ (2018) regarding Presidential Proclamation No. 9645, otherwise known as the “Travel Ban.”  To the dismay of many, the Supreme Court upheld the Travel Ban in spite of challenges that the President (a) did not have authority to issue the ban under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), and (b) violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by targeting and discriminating against Muslims.  One of the major takeaways from the majority’s opinion is the extreme deference to be afforded the President when it comes to national security matters.  In many other situations, extrinsic evidence regarding religious animus (in the form of statements by government officials) may be given substantial weight when considering an Establishment Clause challenge.  But here, such statements by the President were largely trumped by national security concerns. Continue Reading

Floating Home Owner Scores Second Supreme Court Victory Against Riviera Beach, FL

Today the Supreme Court issued an important decision in Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida, 585 U.S. ___ (2018).  The case does not involve land use or even free exercise of religion.  But it is still noteworthy because it deals with local government decision-making and citizens’ free speech rights under the First Amendment.  Most local governments have a handful (or more) of harsh critics who attend virtually all legislative meetings, are often the first to arrive at meetings and the first to scribe their names to the public comment sign-up sheet.  The right to speak out against and petition the government is protected speech under the First Amendment.  The facts giving rise to today’s decision involve the City of Riviera Beach’s arrest of Fane Lozman, who has appeared and spoken at more than 200 City meetings since 2006.  Lozman was arrested in November 2006 while speaking critically of government officials during the public comment portion of a City Council meeting for violating its rules of procedure by discussing issues unrelated to the City and refusing to leave the podium.  Video of Lozman’s arrest at the meeting is available here.  The Supreme Court framed the issue before it as “the intersection of principles that define when arrests are lawful and principles that prohibit the government from retaliating against a person for having exercised the right to free speech.” Continue Reading

DOJ Rolls Out “Place to Worship” RLUIPA Initiative; Sues New Jersey Borough

Earlier this week, the Department of Justice announced its “Place to Worship Initiative” to help protect houses of worship and religious institutions against discrimination in the local land use process.  Attorney General Jefferson Sessions announced the new initiative and stated that President Trump “is an unwavering defender of the right of free exercise [of religion], and under his leadership, the Department of Justice is standing up for the rights of all Americans.”  The full statement reads:

The Constitution doesn’t just protect freedom to worship in private – it protects the public exercise of religious belief, including where people worship together.  Under the laws of this country, government cannot discriminate against people based on their religion – not in law enforcement, not in grant-making, not in hiring, and not in local zoning laws.  President Trump is an unwavering defender of the right of free exercise, and under his leadership, the Department of Justice is standing up for the rights of all Americans.  By raising awareness about our legal rights, the Place to Worship Initiative will help us bring more civil rights cases, win more cases, and prevent discrimination from happening in the first place.

Continue Reading

Church Sues Virginia County Over Religious Discrimination Claims

Last month, a church known as Love of Life Fellowship, Inc. (the “Church”) sued the County of Chesterfield, Virginia, alleging religious discrimination resulting from its desired acquisition and use of 38 acres at 500 Baptist Drive in Chester, Virginia (the “Property”).  The Church has used the Property for two years for religious worship and other activities, including community outreach, serving the homeless, assisting those struggling with and recovering from addiction, helping veterans, and providing youth programs.  The Church filed suit after the County sought an injunction to prevent the Church from operating at the Property. Continue Reading

SCOTUS Rules Baker Who Refused Wedding Cake To Same-Sex Couple Suffered Religious Discrimination

The Supreme Court issued its anticipated decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  The case concerns a Colorado baker’s refusal to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple because the baker’s religious beliefs are that “God’s intention for marriage from the beginning of history is that and should be the union of one man and woman.”  The Supreme Court ruled that the proceedings conducted by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission deprived the baker of an impartial hearing because Commission members openly disparaged the baker’s religious views.  The case demonstrates that local decision-makers, including those in the land use context, must remain fair and neutral when religious beliefs are at issue – even when they disagree with such beliefs or find them offensive. Continue Reading

Yee Haw! Cowboy Church’s Religious Rodeo Clears Some Hurdles

Texas’ appellate court recently issued a decision involving the interplay between religious freedom and governmental police power, a “cowboy church,” and NIMBYism (Not-In-My-Back-Yard).  True to its name, Denton County Cowboy Church (the “Church”) began hosting weekly rodeo events in 2009 at its outdoor arena.  The arena is on the Cowboy Church’s 7-acre tract of land in the Town of Ponder, Texas.  In 2014, the Cowboy Church bought a 12-acre parcel adjoining the 7-acre tract to build a new rodeo.  It began constructing the new 61,000 square foot rodeo arena and applied for a commercial building permit.  The Town issued the permit in July 2015, and several neighbors complained to the Town to revoke the permit and that construction of the rodeo be halted.  In August 2015, the Cowboy Church filed an application for a special use permit to construct a “multi-use event center” on the 12 acres, which would “be used to house among other things, youth ministry, fellowship, and sermons as well as cowboy related rodeo type events, which currently occur and have been occurring for the past several years on [the original tract] in the outdoors, uncovered and uncontained.”  According to the Cowboy Church, its new arena would result in less noise, light and dust pollution on nearby property owners than its existing arena. Continue Reading

Eleventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of City’s Approval of Chabad Religious Center as Moot

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently affirmed the lower court’s decision dismissing an Establishment Clause challenge over the approval of a religious center.  The lawsuit was brought by two residents who live near a mixed-use, two-story religious center proposed by Chabad of East Boca, Inc. (“Chabad”).  In 2007, Chabad sought to acquire land located in the City of Boca Raton’s single-family zone, where “places of worship” are prohibited.  The same year, the City introduced a proposed ordinance that would have allowed places of worship on land originally zoned for residential use.  The ordinance would permit Chabad to develop the land in the single-family zone as a place of worship.  Residents opposed the ordinance and the City stopped considering the ordinance in 2008.  Chabad then abandoned its plans to develop the property in the City’s single-family zone. Continue Reading

Chabad and Toms River Settle RLUIPA Suit

Chabad Jewish Center of Toms River, Inc. (“Chabad”) has settled its religious discrimination lawsuit against the Township of Toms River, New Jersey (“Township”), putting to rest its allegations that the Township violated each of RLUIPA’s provisions by requiring Chabad to obtain a variance to continue to use its property (“Property”) as a Chabad house, house of worship and religious school. We previously posted about this case here and here. Continue Reading

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