As New Year’s approaches, let’s look back at last year’s happenings and how they have shaped religious land use issues across the nation.  Here are our top 10 most read blog posts of 2018:

Recently, the Department of Justice reported that it has closed its investigation into whether the City of Coconut Creek’s zoning code violated RLUIPA’s equal terms provision by treating secular assembly uses better than religious uses.  Below is the DOJ’s full press release:

On December 4, the Department of Justice closed its investigation of the City of Coconut Creek, Florida under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), after the City changed its zoning code to treat houses of worship equally with nonreligious assemblies.

The Department opened an investigation in 2016 into the City’s treatment of churches and other houses of worship in its zoning code.  At the time, nonreligious assemblies such as dance and martial arts studios, fitness clubs, and childcare facilities were allowed to operate as of right in business districts, while houses of worship in these districts were required to obtain special land use permits to operate. 
Continue Reading Coconut Creek, Florida Amends Zoning Code Following DOJ’s RLUIPA Investigation

Earlier this month, an Islamic community center filed suit against the City of Troy, Michigan (“City”) after the City denied the group’s application for a variance needed to operate a mosque at the property it owns in the City, allegedly in violation of RLUIPA. The community center, known as Adam Community Center (“ACC”), is a non-profit corporation whose “stated mission and purpose is to establish a center for increasing knowledge through proper research, education and training in the community for the youth and adults; to establish peace through proper guidance; [and] to establish a homogenous atmosphere for all ethnic groups.” According to the Complaint, ACC has attempted to have several different properties approved as a community center and a place of worship over the past five years, each time meeting resistance from the City and its residents. In 2017, in an effort to avoid further resistance, ACC sought advice from the City as to which of several prospective properties could be used as a mosque and community center. In response, a city employee allegedly advised ACC to look to other cities, because he claimed that there were no places in Troy available for a mosque. There are, however, seventy-three approved places of worship in the City for various non-Muslim religions, several of which have been built and approved since 2013 when ACC began its search.
Continue Reading Islamic Community Center Denied Variance Needed to Operate Mosque; Files Lawsuit Against Michigan City

When is this Church like that Library?” The District Court for the Northern District of Illinois considered this question in its review of the City of Chicago’s motion to dismiss a RLUIPA equal terms claim brought against the City by Immanuel Baptist Church (“Church”). The Court’s recent decision follows last year’s review of the broader question “When is a church like a library?”(see our prior post here).
Continue Reading As-Applied Challenge to Chicago Parking Standard Survives Motion to Dismiss

A federal court in Maryland has denied the City of Laurel, Maryland’s (“City”) motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Redemption Community Church (“Church”). The Church filed suit last February, after the City issued a cease and desist order prohibiting the Church from offering religious services at the coffee shop it owns in the City’s community-village zoning district (the “CV Zone”). We previously posted about this case here.
Continue Reading Coffee Shop Church’s Claims Survive Motion to Dismiss, City Amends Code to Permit Use

Hand of Hope Pregnancy Resource Center (“Hand of Hope”) is a non-profit  in Raleigh, North Carolina with the mission to “affirm the value of life from conception by compassionately sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ[.]”  It offers clients prayer, Bible study, and spiritual counseling, as well as free reproductive healthcare information, physician-quality pregnancy testing, limited obstetrical ultrasounds, pregnancy counseling and support, post-abortion support, and life skills classes.
Continue Reading Hand of Hope RLUIPA Claims Survive Summary Judgment

Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a decision in Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington concerning a religious school’s RLUIPA equal terms challenge.  The decision is the third time in the past five years that the Sixth Circuit has considered the dispute (our prior posts about the case are available here and here).  The recent decision is noteworthy because the Sixth Circuit created a new test (or, at least, a new name for an existing test) to examine claims brought under RLUIPA’s equal terms provision.  Under the equal terms provision, “No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.”  42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(b)(1).  Courts considering equal terms claims have struggled with what constitutes “equal” treatment.  The Sixth Circuit noted that “This language provides no guideposts for what Congress meant by the term ‘equal.’”  According to the Sixth Circuit, a plaintiff may prevail on an equal terms challenge if it identifies a nonreligious use that is similarly situated to a proposed religious use based on “legitimate zoning criteria” with respect to the zoning regulation at issue.  The Sixth Circuit’s decision is also significant because it determined that revenue generation, even in the form of taxes levied against property users and their employees, is a legitimate zoning criteria.  In applying this standard, the Sixth Circuit rejected Tree of Life Christian School’s (“TOL”) equal terms challenge for failing to establish that a nonreligious use was treated better than TOL’s proposed religious school.
Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Creates New RLUIPA Equal Terms Test Based On “Legitimate Zoning Criteria”

Back in 2015, we first reported about a RLUIPA case pitting the County of Maui, Hawaii against practitioners of “Integral Yoga” (prior post available here).  Integral Yoga is a worldwide religious organization established in the U.S. in 1966 that believes “the goal and the birthright of all individuals is to realize the spiritual unity behind the diversity throughout creation and to live harmoniously as members of ‘one universal family.’”  Maui’s Planning and Zoning Commission (the “Commission”) has repeatedly denied the efforts of Frederick R. Honig, also known as Swami Waroopananda (“Honig”), and Spirit of Aloha Temple (the “Temple”) to use an 11-acre site on Haumana Road in Haiku, Hawaii (the “Property”) for Integral Yoga and other related religious uses.  Honig (a Senior Minister of the Temple) describes the Property, which is zoned for agricultural and conservation purposes, as the “most perfect property” in the world.  A federal court issued a ruling earlier this summer denying the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, meaning the case may be headed for trial.
Continue Reading Court Denies Summary Judgment in “Integral Yoga” RLUIPA Dispute in Hawaii

Recent amendments to the zoning code of the City of Monroe, North Carolina (the “City”) are unconstitutional, according to the Complaint filed by At the Cross Fellowship Baptist Church (the “Church”), a congregation of approximately 30 people established in 2017, which describes itself as having “a calling to serve the Monroe, North Carolina community.”
Continue Reading North Carolina City’s Zoning Code Amendment “At The Cross”-Road of RLUIPA Claim

A federal court in Nevada has ruled that the denial of a church’s special use permit application to develop property with a house of worship did not violate RLUIPA’s substantial burden provision, the Equal Protection Clause, the Due Process Clause, or state law.  Significantly, this case demonstrates the bedrock principle that land use agencies may deny zoning applications for religious use for legitimate zoning concerns.  In this case, the land use agency deemed the site in question inappropriate for a house of worship because it was adjacent to a dangerous intersection with existing traffic problems and would be incompatible with the quiet neighborhood.
Continue Reading Federal Court Rejects Church’s Religious Land Use Claims Based on Government’s Legitimate Zoning Concerns