Many view Thanksgiving week as a time for reflection and gratitude. Whether looking forward to the next turkey or reminiscing about the last, take some time for our semi-regular summary of news items involving local government, religion, and land use—the round-up:
- The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in Trapp v. Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, SJC-11863, unanimously held that closure of the sweat lodge at the Souza-Baranowski “Supermax” Correctional Center (SBCC) in Shirley, Massachusetts violates prisoners’ rights under RLUIPA. A previous guest post by Joseph N. Schneiderman regarding oral argument in the case is available here. A more detailed post on the decision will follow. The Boston Globe also reported on this case.
- The Concord Monitor reports that Pembroke New Hampshire’s zoning board reversed its September denial to Next Level Church and is now allowing the Church to locate within a commercial zone. The Board Chairman cited RLUIPA’s equal terms and nondiscrimination provisions as the reasons for the reversal.
- The Concord Monitor also reports that the attorney representing Next Level Church plans to file a separate lawsuit on December 1 against Pembroke in an unrelated RLUIPA matter. Earlier this fall, the Concord Monitor reported on the efforts of the Hillside Baptist Church, in collaboration with “Signs For Jesus,” to erect an 8 by 4 foot electronic sign along Route 3 in Pembroke, in a zone that where electronic signs are prohibited. Pembroke Academy, located within the same zoning district but exempt for municipal land use regulation, erected an electronic sign “against the wishes of the town.” Citing RLUIPA, the Church’s attorney argues that it is unlawful to treat the Academy more favorably than the church.
- Time reports that after an initial denial, a Massachusetts woman was granted a religious exemption, as a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to wear a colander on her head in her driver’s license photo.
- It’s Nativity Scene-Controversy Season again! BreitBart reports that the Freedom from Religion Foundation (“FFRF”) will erect a Bill of Rights Nativity scene, featuring George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Lady Liberty with the Bill of Rights in a manger at the Franklin County, Indiana Courthouse. Last year, we featured a lawsuit filed by FFRF against the County challenging the display of a “traditional” nativity scene on the Courthouse lawn: “Tis The Season For Nativity Scenes & Satanic Displays: Happy Holidays from RLUIPA Defense..”
- The Arizona Daily Star reports that the Ninth Circuit heard argument in Mesquite Grove Chapel v. Pima County Bd of Adjustment, where the plaintiffs appealed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to Pima County. The plaintiffs claim that the District Court improperly interpreted RLUIPA’s substantial burden provision to require they prove that no site was available in the County for their proposed use. The parties also dispute whether the plaintiffs’ use was primarily religious or primarily an event venue, holding up to 75 weddings a year. A video recording of argument before the Ninth Circuit is available here.