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Mississippi Church Files Suit Against Hinds County for Treating Religious Assembly Uses Unequally

Written by Noel Sterett on May 10, 2021 Category: Equal Terms, Firm News, RLUIPA, RLUIPA Case Observations and Insights, RLUIPA Cases

On April 27, 2021, we filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of The Church at Jackson against Hinds County, Mississippi for violating the “equal terms” provision of the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc(b)(1).

Last year, the church acquired a six acre parcel of property located in an Agricultural District of Hinds County. After county officials found out that the church wanted to meet on the property, the church was told it needed to have the property rezoned to a special use district. The church then applied to have the property rezoned only to have its application ultimately denied on April 19, 2021–after months of waiting and multiple hearings before the Hinds County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

Under the Hinds County Zoning Ordinance, a number of nonreligious assembly uses, such as gymnasiums and arenas, are allowed to locate as of right in the Agricultural District, but religious assembly uses, such as churches, mosques and synagogues, are not allowed to locate as of right in the Agricultural District. The church’s lawsuit challenges these unequal terms because they violate the “equal terms” provision of RLUIPA, which states that “[n]o 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).

The case has been assigned to the Honorable Henry T. Wingate of the Southern District of Mississippi. A hearing on the church’s motion for a preliminary injunction and declaratory relief has been scheduled for May 14, 2021.

No religious group should have to go through what this church went through to secure its ability to gather for worship in its community. But cases like these are not uncommon. Religious groups need to be aware of the protections they are afforded under federal law and municipalities would do well to understand the law as well. We have prepared a free e-book to help church and other religious assemblies and institutions better understand their rights.

Free Religious Land Use and Zoning Guide

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