The United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has reached an agreement with Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania (“Township”), resolving allegations that the Township violated each of RLUIPA’s provisions when it denied a use variance application submitted by the Bensalem Masjid, Inc. (“Masjid”) to build a mosque.  We previously posted about this case here.

The DOJ lawsuit arose from the Township’s 2014 denial of the Masjid’s application for a use variance to develop a site consisting of three separate parcels located in three separate zones and totaling 4.5 acres with a mosque.  The use variance was needed because the zoning districts in which the property is located prohibit religious uses.  The DOJ alleged that the Township’s actions violated RLUIPA’s substantial burden, equal terms, non-discrimination, and unreasonable limits provisions.  Masjid filed a similar suit against the Township in 2014.  See our post on Masjid’s complaint here.  This lawsuit was also recently settled.

According to a DOJ press release, Masjid and the Township have also reached a settlement.  Under the agreements, Masjid will be permitted to use the subject property to build a mosque, and the Township must review and amend its zoning ordinance to comply with the requirements of RLUIPA.  Acting Attorney General John Gore explained: “Federal law protects the rights of all religious communities to build places of worship free from discrimination… This agreement ensures that all citizens of Bensalem Township may freely exercise this important civil right.”

Township Solicitor Joseph Pizzo, who cited high financial costs as a reason for settling, noted that Masjid still must undergo the land development plan approval process before construction on the mosque may begin.

The full text of the settlement agreement is available here.

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Photo of Diana Neeves Diana Neeves

Diana E. Neeves, a member of Robinson+Cole’s Environmental, Energy + Telecommunications Group, focuses her practice on environmental, energy, telecommunications, and utilities law. She also helps defend municipalities nationwide in cases involving the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

Ms.

Diana E. Neeves, a member of Robinson+Cole’s Environmental, Energy + Telecommunications Group, focuses her practice on environmental, energy, telecommunications, and utilities law. She also helps defend municipalities nationwide in cases involving the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

Ms. Neeves handles litigation related to environmental and land use matters. She represents clients in disputes brought under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and handles litigation involving asbestos contamination and exposure. Ms. Neeves’ litigation experience involves federal and state environmental enforcement actions and lawsuits between private parties.

Ms. Neeves regularly works with clients on the clean-up of contaminated properties, including Superfund sites. She assists clients with federal and state administrative compliance, including environmental remediation. Ms. Neeves helps represent a client who owns property which was contaminated by a previous owner, and she has been working with the state environmental agency to coordinate site clean-up.

Ms. Neeves is part of Robinson+Cole’s Utilities Group, which serves utility and energy clients on  regulatory and environmental matters. She provides a range of transactional and compliance services. She helps clients navigate all local, state and federal permitting requirements, and works to ensure they are in compliance with all regulations. Ms. Neeves has recently been working with clients on energy and conservation matters in hearings before the New York State Public Service Commission.

Ms. Neeves provides guidance to clients seeking local zoning approvals. She counsels them on meeting requirements for land development and securing necessary municipal and state permits to do so.