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

Upcoming Webinar – Planning, Law and Plain English

The Planning and Law Division of the American Planning Association is pleased to host the upcoming webcast Planning, Law, and Plain English on November 1, 2018 from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. EDT.  Registration for individual PLD members is $20 and $45 for non-members. Registration for two or more people at one computer is $140.  This webinar will examine how words frame our understanding of often complex concepts and demonstrate how our choice of words can either illuminate the concept, or make it impossibly difficult to comprehend. The speakers will use real world examples of how English serves or compromises important planning and development policies and regulations and provide useful drafting tips that can make even the most verbose writer elegantly efficient.  Speakers are David Silverman, AICP, Partner at Ancel Glink in Chicago and Kimberley Mickelson, AICP, Sr. Asst City Attorney for Planning and Development, City of Houston Legal Department, Real Estate Division.

Register here

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CLE 1.50 through Illinois State Bar

Coffee Shop Church’s Claims Survive Motion to Dismiss, City Amends Code to Permit Use

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

Hand of Hope RLUIPA Claims Survive Summary Judgment

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

Sixth Circuit Creates New RLUIPA Equal Terms Test Based On “Legitimate Zoning Criteria”

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

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