The Fourth Circuit has ruled against the Alive Church of the Nazarene’s claims that Prince William County, Virginia, violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLIUPA) by denying the Church the opportunity to worship on its 17-acre property before the Church complied with relevant zoning regulations. Alive Church of the Nazarene, Inc.
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
If you are a municipality defending against a RLUIPA lawsuit, it is generally not a good sign when a court’s memorandum of decision begins with a string of biblical quotes. Wakulla County Florida experienced this earlier this summer. When granting a religious group’s motion for a preliminary injunction to operate a transition home, Judge Mark Walker opened his decision by writing:
“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison and did not help you?” Matthew 25:44. To which the Lord replied, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Id. 25:45. Scripture teaches that by serving those in need, particularly those shunned by society, one serves the Lord. See James 2:14-16 (“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”).
The court went on to find that Wakulla County’s actions in prohibiting City Walk – Urban Mission Inc. (Urban Mission) from operating a transition home for three or more people, including registered sex offenders, violated RLUIPA’s substantial burden provision.
Continue Reading Florida Court Finds RLUIPA Protects Transition Home for Registered Sex Offenders
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…
A federal court in New York issued an important decision that should serve as a reminder about the reach of RLUIPA. The case involves a homeowner’s request to have an Amish roofer repair her damaged roof. In April 2018, Dorthy Frances Ripley’s home was damaged by high winds and she hired a local Amish roofer, Emmanuel Roffer, to replace her roof. Mr. Roffer told Ms. Ripley that he could not perform the work because he did not have insurance, which was required by the City of Olean, New York but prohibited by his religion. Ms. Ripley tried to purchase insurance for her roofer, but was informed by her insurance agent that she was not allowed to do so. Ms. Ripley sued the City and alleged that the City violated “the religious customs of Emmanuel Roffer, whose Amish beliefs … forbid him to buy insurance of any kind, or to obtain government-issued permits or licenses.” She also claimed that being denied “the benefit of having Amish laborers replace the roof on her home … is a violation of her land use rights,” and she sought unspecified damages.
Continue Reading RLUIPA Does Not Apply to Uninsured Amish Roofer Repairing Homeowner’s Damaged Roof
Late last month, an addiction ministry known as Vision Warriors Church, Inc. sued the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners under the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, RLUIPA, and the U.S. Constitution. According to the complaint, the Church provides “a faith-based community for men recovering from addiction that focuses on accountability and transparency in an effort to help men to be better Disciples of Christ, fathers, husbands, leaders and friends.” It does so by offering support services for 20-30 men to overcome addiction through a residential program, weekly services and faith-based meetings. In 2017, the Church purchased property located at 1709 Old Country Place, Woodstock, Georgia from another ministry called Happy Acres Mission Transit Center. Happy Acres operated there for approximately 35 years and, with local zoning approval, provided temporary housing to missionaries, had a worship/assembly hall, dormitories with kitchen facilities, an auto repair shop, and storage building. The Church alleges that it purchased the property following assurances from the Zoning Administrator that its use would be permitted. After operating for approximately 4 months, the Church claims that the County prevented it from operating in response to neighborhood opposition in an attempt to close the Church’s doors.
Continue Reading Fair Housing Act Meets RLUIPA in Georgia
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
Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed a lower court’s decision dismissing a church’s religious discrimination claims. In doing so, the Fourth Circuit found that the church had properly alleged claims under RLUIPA based in part on the community’s ethnic bias against the church’s connection to associated church’s in Kenya, as well as the fact that many of the church’s congregants were born in Africa. (We previously posted about the case here).
Continue Reading 4th Circuit Rules Ethnic Bias Gives Rise to RLUIPA Claim