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.