A federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois recently denied a religious organization’s motions for preliminary injunction against the City of Blue Island, Illinois. In Affordable Recovery Housing v. The City of Blue Island, the plaintiff Affordable Recovery Housing (ARH) leased a property in Blue Island and moved into the property in March 2011. ARH is a non-profit, faith-based organization which provides recovery and housing services to adult men. Initially, the City gave permission to move fourteen people into the facility, and said that a sprinkler system should be installed in the building for fire-safety reasons. Other permits were required to be obtained before the building could house clients on a larger scale. After ARH failed in its first attempt to obtain a permit, the City discovered that more than seventy clients now resided in the facility, and that there were several safety concerns, chiefly the absence of a sprinkler system. The City then served ARH with an order to vacate the premises. ARH subsequently filed a federal lawsuit.
In its lawsuit, ARH alleges that the City infringed on its First Amendment rights, rights under the Illinois Religious Freed Restoration Act, and its rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). In determining whether to grant a preliminary injunction, a court must analyze whether a case has “some likelihood of succeeding on the merits.” In this case, the court ruled that ARH was not likely to succeed on the merits of the case. Of particular interest is the courts discussion of the RLUIPA claim. The court ruled that the requirement to install a sprinkler system for the purposes of fire safety and the process for obtaining a special use permit did not impose a substantial burden on ARH’s religious exercise as required by RLUIPA. The court repeatedly makes reference to the fact that RLUIPA does not mean that religious institutions no longer need to make every effort to comply with local zoning laws. The court notes in several places that ARH should have installed sprinkler systems and applied for proper permits before moving into the facility. The court concludes by denying the preliminary injunction.
This order reinforces that the purpose of RLUIPA is to ensure equal treatment for religious institutions, not special treatment. Simply being a religious institution does not mean that an institution does not need to comply with zoning laws to the best of its ability. It is important for religious institutions to remember that courts will typically not look kindly on a RLUIPA case when the institution has not made a good faith effort to work together with the local authority and comply with the zoning laws to the extent possible. The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich, PLC have extensive experience with religious land use cases, especially RLUIPA cases. We represent individuals and institutions and individuals of all faiths. If you feel that your rights or the rights of your institution have been violated in this regard, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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