A federal court in Florida recently ruled that Pass-A-Grille Beach Community Church, Inc. (Church) was likely to prevail on its RLUIPA substantial burden claim challenging the City of St. Pete Beach’s enforcement of parking regulations.  Since 1957, the Church has allowed the general public to use its parking lot free of charge to access the beach.  According to the Church, providing free beach parking is part of its religious exercise in that free parking helps to attract people to the Church and affords the Church a “unique opportunity to serve the community and reach out to people who may not otherwise come to the Church.”  Over the years, the Church’s youth group decided to evangelize, pray for, and seek donations for their mission trips from people who parked in the Church’s lot.  Some of the Church’s neighbors were unhappy and complained to the City about the Church’s parking practices.  In 2016, the City took the position that its land use ordinances prohibited the Church from allowing anyone who is not a “customer” or “patron” of the Church from parking in the Church’s lot.

On January 26, 2021, the court granted the Church’s motion for a preliminary injunction and enjoined the City from enforcing its land use ordinance “to prevent or attempt to prevent the Church from continuing to allow the general public to use its parking lot, soliciting charitable donations on the lot, and evangelizing those who park in its lot.”


Continue Reading St. Pete Beach, Florida Enjoined from Prohibiting Church’s Beach Parking Lot Evangelism

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently found in favor of the Town of Pembroke, New Hampshire regarding the Town’s denial of an application for an electronic sign permit for religious messages.  The Town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (Board) denied the permit because it believed the sign would “detract from the rural character of the Route 3 corridor” and noted the Town’s interest in maintaining its “quaint little New England village” aesthetic.  Signs for Jesus and Hillside Baptist Church (collectively, the Church) sued the Town after the Board denied a permit to install an electronic sign on Hillside Baptist Church’s property which would transmit messages provided by Signs for Jesus.  According to the Church, the denial of the permit and the Town’s local sign code violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, RLUIPA’s equal terms and substantial burden provisions, and state law.  The First Circuit did not agree.  It affirmed the District Court’s decision granting summary judgment to the Town.  Our post regarding that decision is available here.
Continue Reading First Circuit Rejects Signs For Jesus’ RLUIPA and Constitutional Appeal

Religious entities that wish to short-circuit the often lengthy zoning application process are tempted to bring a facial challenge under RLUIPA.  As the decision in Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship v. County of Riverside, 948 F.3d 1172 (9th Cir. 2020) demonstrates, this approach can face as many hurdles as the zoning application.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Rejects RLUIPA Facial Challenge

RLUIPA’s equal terms provision requires municipalities to treat religious uses no worse than analogous secular assembly uses.  Generally, if a municipality wants to either prohibit religious uses from a certain zone or subject them to stricter zoning review, it must have a strong justification to do so.  Justifications may include promoting important public health and safety issues.  However, municipalities may find themselves on the wrong side of a RLUIPA lawsuit if they treat religious uses worse than secular uses in the same zone if both have the same impact on the public health and safety justifications.  A federal court in Maryland recently ruled that Baltimore County’s zoning code violates RLUIPA because it allows public schools as of right while requiring religious use to obtain special exception approval in a conservation zoning district.  The main purpose of the district was to protect public water supply.  Because public schools and religious uses had the same effect on water supply, the Court found an equal terms violation based on the face of the zoning code.
Continue Reading Baltimore County’s Zoning Code Found to Violate RLUIPA’s Equal Terms Provision

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued an important decision regarding RLUIPA’s substantial burden and equal terms provisions.  The court ruled in favor of the City of Kirkwood, Missouri in a years-long battle against a religious high school challenging the City’s lighting regulations for its baseball field.  St. John Vianney High School, Inc. (“Vianney”) is an all-male Marianist high school that has operated in the City since 1960, wanted to expand its baseball games from daytime to nighttime.  It claimed its religion required it to evangelize and draw people to its 37-acre campus to share its faith.  Although Vianney installed the lights and obtained site plan approval, it took issue with conditions of approval imposed by the City which it claimed deprived it of all meaningful use of its baseball field at night.  The Eighth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision in favor of the City.
Continue Reading City of Kirkwood, MO Hits Homerun in Religious Baseball Field Dispute in Eighth Circuit

Wayside Chapel Evangelical Free Church is suing Castle Hills, Texas for denying its application for a special use permit for property located at 113 Ivywood Circle.  The Church claims that the extra space is needed to accommodate its religious exercise, particularly for Sunday School classroom programs.  Reportedly, the property that was the subject of the

Last week, the United States Supreme Court denied Tree of Life Christian Schools’ petition for certiorari involving its longstanding religious dispute with Upper Arlington, Ohio (City).  In 2009, Tree of Life purchased a commercially-zoned 254,000 square foot office building that it hoped to convert to a religious school.  After the City denied a conditional use

A United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee recently ruled that Layman Lessons Church and Welcome Baptist Church, Inc. (“Layman Lessons”) can move forward with most, but not all, of its religious discrimination claims against Metropolitan Government of Nashville/Davidson County (“Nashville”).  The dispute arose in 2018, when Layman Lessons claims that Nashville used local building and zoning laws to prevent it from ministering to the poor and homeless on commercially zoned property located at 1455 Neelys Bend Road, Madison, Tennessee (“Property”).  Layman Lessons provides food, clothing, shelter, a mobile shower and laundry center, transportation, life skills training, and spiritual and recovery counseling to the poor and homeless.  It alleges that Nashville discriminated against it by refusing to allow it to use the Property to serve the poor and homeless in a variety of ways, including by delaying its religious use of the Property; preventing mobile food pantries in the paved parking area; issuing fabricated stop work orders, even though Layman Lessons was not violating any law; recommending demolition of Layman Lessons’ storage barn; refusing to correct an illegal storm water pipe that flooded the Property; and interfering with Layman Lessons’ existing contract with its landlord to conduct religious activities, operate mobile food pantries; and provide laundry services to the homeless.
Continue Reading Church Ministering to Homeless/Needy Can Proceed with Most of its Religious Discrimination Claims

The Chabad House for Towson University and Goucher College, pictured above, has filed a lawsuit against Baltimore County, Maryland (the “County”), following a state court order requiring demolition of a newly-constructed addition to the Chabad House. The Complaint alleges, among other things, violations of RLUIPA’s substantial burden, equal terms, nondiscrimination, and exclusions and limitations provisions.
Continue Reading Chabad House for Towson University and Goucher College Files Lawsuit Alleging RLUIPA Violations Following State Court Order to Demolish Newly-Constructed Addition

The Seventh Circuit recently reversed a district court’s decision finding a church’s RLUIPA claims were unripe and moot because it was granted parking variances and a conditional use permit after the church brought suit.  The case involves the Church of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (“Church”).  For the past 15 years, the Church has gathered at a residential home in the City of Markham’s R-3 One-Family Residential District for worship services, choir rehearsals, and Bible studies.  In 2012, as the Church’s congregation grew and its religious activities expanded, it remodeled the garage into a chapel.  The work consisted of installing a new roof, new windows, and pews at a cost of about $40,000.  Months after the Church completed this work the City of Markham brought an injunction against the Church to have the Church apply for a conditional use permit for its expanded religious activities.  The City denied the conditional use permit and the Church sued, alleging violations of RLUIPA’s equal terms, substantial burden, and unreasonable limits provisions and Illinois’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act (see our prior post about this case here).
Continue Reading 7th Circuit Rules Church’s RLUIPA Claims Against Markham, Illinois Ripe for Review