Recently, we reported that Bernards Township, New Jersey (the “Township”) had invited the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (“ISBR”) to resubmit an application to develop a mosque. Previously, the Township denied the Islamic Society’s application for a 4,250 square foot mosque after more than 39 public hearing sessions over the course of about 4 years.  Our previous posts regarding the controversy are available here, here, and here.

ISBR’s case has garnered significant media attention in the last few weeks. One reason why may be that almost 50 Township residents received subpoenas in connection with the action. The 112-page complaint contains pages of allegations of “Community Opposition and Anti-Muslim Animus.” Community opposition and individual residents’ blatant animus have supported, at least at the summary judgment stage, a plaintiff’s RLUIPA and constitutional challenges. (See, for example, the decision in and our commentary regarding, a lawsuit against Bridgewater, NJ, which settled for $7.75 Million.) (For more information and another example, scroll to page 7 here.)

Another reason for the attention may be that an unusually large number of amici joined together in filing a friend of the court brief in support of ISBR.  According to the opening lines of the brief: “Amici are religious, legal, and civil liberties organizations concerned that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) be accurately interpreted and that constitutional rights be fully enforced.”

Amici include: American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Center for Islam and Religious Freedom, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Muslim Bar Association of New York, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Association of Evangelicals, New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association, Queens Federation of Churches, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sikh Coalition, South Asian Bar Association of New Jersey, South Asian Bar Association of New York, and Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey.

Members of the above list are also joined by a number of individual amici. In their brief, the amici urge the court “to grant Plaintiffs’ 12(c) motion for partial judgment on the pleadings because Defendants have improperly applied different legal standards to a mosque simply because it is a mosque.”

The amici brief first addresses why Congress passed RLUIPA and relies on quotes from the Congressional Record and several RLUIPA cases to explain why “land-use regulation can threaten religious liberty.”  Next, the brief argues that the defendants have violated each of the three RLUIPA Nondiscrimination provisions: Section 2(b)(1)’s  “equal terms” provision; Section 2(b)(2)’s denominational discrimination provision; and Section 2(b)(3)’s total exclusions provision. Since the Township required more than double the amount of parking usually required for other applicants, the amici argue, ISBR was treated worse than other land use applicants “precisely because it is a mosque.”  Finally, the amici argue that the Township’s Parking Ordinance is unconstitutionally vague because it “leaves the parking ratio determination open-ended, subjecting applicants to the unfettered will of the Planning Board.”

The amici correctly note that the Third Circuit treats RULIPA’s Equal Terms provision as including a strict liability standard—if religious uses are treated less favorably, such diversity in treatment cannot be justified by a narrowly tailored, compelling government interest.  (See Lighthouse Institute for Evangelism, Inc. v. City of Long Branch, 510 F.3d 253, 266 (3d Cir. 2007)).  Readers should note, however, this view has not been adopted in other circuits.

Original photography by Wilson Salvador some rights reserved

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Photo of Karla Chaffee Karla Chaffee

Karla L. Chaffee is a member of Robinson+Cole’s Real Estate + Development Group and is based in the Boston office, focusing on a variety of land use and environmental matters. Karla’s interest in RLUIPA began in law school when she co-authored, “Six

Karla L. Chaffee is a member of Robinson+Cole’s Real Estate + Development Group and is based in the Boston office, focusing on a variety of land use and environmental matters. Karla’s interest in RLUIPA began in law school when she co-authored, “Six Fact Patterns of Substantial Burden in RLUIPA: Lessons for Potential Litigants,” (with Dwight Merriam) published in Albany Government Law Review (Spring 2009). Karla has continued to write and speak on RLUIPA and has represented clients in several federal proceedings, including RLUIPA, First Amendment, and Equal Protection claims. In addition to her RLUIPA practice, Karla has litigated complex environmental matters, defending claims under Massachusetts Chapter 21E. Karla’s transactional experience includes pre-acquisition and pre-financing due diligence, environmental risk assessment and risk mitigation. She also represents clients seeking local zoning approvals and counsels them on the impact of proposed or recently enacted land use legislation, as well as on land use trends across the country.

Karla is also a proud member of Robinson+Cole’s Pro Bono Committee and is dedicated to maintaining pro bono work as part of her practice. Her pro bono clients include individuals and families seeking asylum in the United States. She has also represented nonprofit organizations in obtaining tax-exempt status and has served as legal counsel in a zoning appeal for a nonprofit association created to support and protect a national park.

Photo of Evan Seeman Evan Seeman

Evan J. Seeman is a lawyer in Robinson+Cole’s Hartford office and focuses his practice on land use, real estate, environmental, and regulatory matters, representing local governments, developers and advocacy groups. He has spoken and written about RLUIPA, and was a lead author of…

Evan J. Seeman is a lawyer in Robinson+Cole’s Hartford office and focuses his practice on land use, real estate, environmental, and regulatory matters, representing local governments, developers and advocacy groups. He has spoken and written about RLUIPA, and was a lead author of an amicus curiae brief at the petition stage before the United States Supreme Court in a RLUIPA case entitled City of San Leandro v. International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

Evan serves as the Secretary/Treasurer of the APA’s Planning & Law Division. He also serves as the Chair of the Planning & Zoning Section of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section, and is the former Co-Chair of its Municipal Law Section. He has been named to the Connecticut Super Lawyers® list as a Rising Star in the area of Land Use Law for 2013 and 2014. He received his B.A. in political science and Russian studies (with honors) from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was selected as the President’s Fellow in the Department of Modern Languages and Literature. Evan received his Juris Doctor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, where he served on the Connecticut Law Review. While in law school, he interned with the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General in the environmental department, and served as a judicial intern for the judges of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court. Following law school, Evan clerked for the Honorable F. Herbert Gruendel of the Connecticut Appellate Court.

Photo of Dwight Merriam Dwight Merriam

Dwight H. Merriam founded Robinson+Cole’s Land Use Group in 1978. He represents land owners, developers, governments and individuals in land use matters, with a focus on defending governments in RLUIPA cases. Dwight is a Fellow and Past President of the American Institute of…

Dwight H. Merriam founded Robinson+Cole’s Land Use Group in 1978. He represents land owners, developers, governments and individuals in land use matters, with a focus on defending governments in RLUIPA cases. Dwight is a Fellow and Past President of the American Institute of Certified Planners, a former Director of the American Planning Association (APA), a former chair of APA’s Planning and Law Division, Immediate Past Chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of State and Local Government Law, Chair of the Institute of Local Government Studies at the Center for American and International Law, a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, a member of the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute National Advisory Board, a Fellow of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, a Counselor of Real Estate, a member of the Anglo-American Real Property Institute, and a Fellow of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers.

He teaches land use law at the University of Connecticut School of Law and at Vermont Law School and has published over 200 articles and eight books, including Inclusionary Zoning Moves Downtown, The Takings Issue, The Complete Guide to Zoning, and Eminent Domain Use and Abuse: Kelo in Context. He is the senior co-author of the leading casebook on land use law, Planning and Control of Land Development (Eighth Edition). Dwight has written and spoken widely on how to avoid RLUIPA claims and how to successfully defend against them in court. He is currently writing a book on the subject, RLUIPA DEFENSE, for the American Bar Association.

Dwight has been named to the Connecticut Super Lawyers® list in the area of Land Use Law since 2006, is one of the Top 50 Connecticut Super Lawyers in Connecticut, and is one of the Top 100 New England Super Lawyers (Super Lawyers is a registered trademark of Key Professional Media, Inc.). He received his B.A. (cum laude) from the University of Massachusetts, his Masters of Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina, where he was the graduation speaker in 2011, and his J.D. from Yale. He is a featured speaker at many land use seminars, and presents monthly audio land use seminars for the International Municipal Lawyers Association. Dwight has been cited in the national press from The New York Times to People magazine and has appeared on NBC’s The Today Show, MSNBC and public television.

Dwight also had a career in the Navy, serving for three tours in Vietnam aboard ship, then returning to be the Senior Advisor of the Naval ROTC Unit at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where he taught Defense Administration and Military Management as an Assistant Professor in the undergraduate and graduate curriculum in Defense Administration and Military Management. He left active duty after seven years to attend law school, but continued on for 24 more years as a reserve Surface Warfare Officer with two major commands, including that of the reserve commanding officer of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. He retired as a Captain in 2009 after 31 years of service.