4th Circuit Rules Ethnic Bias Gives Rise to RLUIPA Claim

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

7th Circuit Rules Church’s RLUIPA Claims Against Markham, Illinois Ripe for Review

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

Upcoming Webinar – Planning and Law Caselaw Update

The Planning and Law Division of the American Planning Association is pleased to host the upcoming webcast Planning and Law Caselaw Update on Thursday, January 31, 2019, from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. ET.  Registration for individual PLD members is $20 and $45 for non-members. Registration for two or more people at one computer is $140.

The U.S. Supreme Court, federal courts, and state courts all play an important role in shaping planning throughout the country. This annual review delves into the important cases, the decisions that were made — or not made — and how this will affect planning at many levels.  It will also consider new legislative developments, both at the local and federal levels, which may influence the future of planning.  Speakers are John Baker, Esq., founding attorney of Greene Espel,  Deborah M. Rosenthal, Esq., FAICP, partner at Fitzgerald Yap Kreditor LLP, and Alan Weinstein, Esq., Professor of Law at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and Professor of Urban Studies at CSU’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs.

Register here

Clifton, NJ Pays $2.5 Million to Settle RLUIPA Dispute

Clifton, New Jersey has agreed to pay a Jewish congregation $2.5 million and will allow it to construct a synagogue.  Congregation Shomrei Torah/Tiferes Boruch asked for permission to build a synagogue 11 years ago.  The congregation had to appear before Clifton’s zoning and planning board more than 30 times from 2008 to 2015.  The congregation alleged that Clifton kept moving the goal line.  “It was like if my son told me he couldn’t do his homework because he didn’t have a pencil.  I’d get him 12 pencils, and wait for the next excuse,” said congregation president David Gross.  Examples of discriminatory application of local regulations alleged by the congregation include:

  • A directive that water pressure on the property had to be at 800 gallons per minute or 20 pounds of pressure per minute to fight fire. After three years, the fire department changed the requirement to 3,500 gallons per minute.
  • Determining that a Friday night mikvah (ritual bath) proposed for the synagogue was a “business” use (rather than a “religious” use) and not allowed.
  • Changing parking requirements from 32 parking spaces to 140 spaces.

Continue Reading

Recap of the Top Read Blog Posts in 2018

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:

Tis The Season for Controversial Holiday Displays

The holidays are upon us.  That means spending time with loved ones, good food, presents, and, of course, controversial holiday displays.  Under the First Amendment, government must treat all religions equally and cannot take any action that would unreasonably burden religious exercise unless it has a compelling reason to do so.  Sometimes, local governments receive requests for provocative holiday displays on public grounds.  Other times, they may receive complaints to take action to prevent over-the-top private holiday displays.  In each instance, local governments might feel as though their hands are tied under the First Amendment to do anything but allow the displays.  While nothing will ever quite live up to that one haunted house worker in Ohio who used zombies to create a nativity scene, baby-fanged Jesus and all (read more here), below are some of our favorite stories for 2018. Continue Reading

Proposed Law in Woodbury, New York Would Require Permits for Eruvin

The Village Board for the Village of Woodbury, New York (“Village”) is considering a new law that would require a permit in order to erect or maintain an eruv in any public street, right-of-way or easement. For those not familiar with an eruv, it is an unbroken demarcation of an area, often created by connecting existing telephone or utility poles and wires, that allows Jews to carry or push objects from place to place on the Sabbath and Yom Kippur. A number of eruvs have been erected as the Orthodox Jewish community has grown in Woodbury over recent years. Continue Reading

Coconut Creek, Florida Amends Zoning Code Following DOJ’s RLUIPA Investigation

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

Islamic Community Center Denied Variance Needed to Operate Mosque; Files Lawsuit Against Michigan City

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

As-Applied Challenge to Chicago Parking Standard Survives Motion to Dismiss

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

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