The following is reported by the U.S. Department of Justice in its newsletter Religious Freedom in Focus (May 2014, Vol. 60).
In response to a Department of Justice investigation under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the City of Eatonton, Georgia voted on May 19 to allow churches and other places of worship to be built as of right in two business and one light industrial district. The move equalizes the treatment of religious assemblies in the city with various non-religious assemblies. In response, the Department has closed its investigation.
The Department had opened an investigation in response to a complaint from a small Christian church that said it was unable to find an affordable location in the city as a result of zoning regulations that disfavored places of worship relative to other place of assembly. The Department's investigation uncovered other churches that had faced problems finding an appropriate location. Section 2(b)(1) of RLUIPA provides that a religious assembly or institution must not be treated "on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution."
Before the change adopted on May 19, within the General Commercial and Local Commercial zones, assembly halls, cultural facilities, fraternal organizations, funeral homes, and schools, colleges, universities, and technical schools were allowed as of right, while places of worship required a conditional use permit. Similarly, in the Light Industrial Zone, assembly halls, funeral homes, schools and technical schools were permitted, but places of worship were excluded entirely. With the ordinance change, places of worship will be allowed in these three zones as of right.
Further information on the Civil Rights Division's work enforcing the land use provisions of RLUIPA, including questions and answers about RLUIPA and a report on the first ten years of Justice Department enforcement of RLUIPA, is available at the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section's RLUIPA page.