It has been a busy couple of weeks around the nation for religious organizations, as there have been a number of land use cases under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) making their way through the courts and local zoning boards.
Three weeks ago we highlighted the decision of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Eagle Cove Camp & Conference Center, Inc. v. Town of Woodboro, Wisconsin, where the court held the government did not violate RLUIPA in denying approval to a year-round Bible camp. This week, there is even more news with regard to recent RLUIPA cases.
First, on November 12, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a RLUIPA case that originated in Louisiana state court. In Parish of Jefferson v. Daughters of St. Paul Inc., a community of religious women claimed that the local parish government had placed a substantial burden on their religious exercise by requiring them to compensate the parish for use of the right-of-way in front of the group’s bookstore, Pauline’s Books. The government had sued the religious group in state court due to their failure to pay for such use.
The Louisiana Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s award of summary judgment to the parish on Daughters of St. Paul’s RLUIPA substantial burden claim. “We do not find the leasing of the right-of-way infringes on Pauline Books’ religious behavior. The financial burden of leasing the right-of-way, which is being applied to all businesses in the comprehensive zoning area, is not a great restriction or onus upon Pauline Books’ religious exercise.” The Louisiana Supreme Court denied the Daughters of St. Paul’s petition for certiorari to review the decision of the appellate court.
On November 12, the U.S. Supreme Court also declined to review the case of the Daughters of St. Paul. Thus, to date, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to review a RLUIPA case in the context of land use issues.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey earlier this month, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness of New Jersey won approval to build a temple after a four-year application process. The Society drew about 120 members each week to worship services held in a 100-year-old mansion in Towaco, New Jersey. The design of the mansion prevented the worshippers to conduct a number of religiously significant activities, including a walk around the temple known as circumambulate.
The Society sought a use variance in 2009 from the Parsippany Township Zoning Board of Adjustment to build a new Hare Krishna temple on a three-acre parcel of property. The location was ideal because nearly half of the local members of the Society live in Parsippany Township. Neighbors objected to the proposed project based on concerns over traffic and parking. Thus, the Society shrank the size of the proposed project.
Finally, on November 6, the Zoning Board of Adjustment granted the Society the use variance, thereby likely avoiding a RLUIPA lawsuit. The variance will be officially granted once the Zoning Board approves the necessary resolution, most likely early next year.
The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich have extensive experience handling RLUIPA and other land use matters on behalf of religious institutions against local governments in federal and state courts across the nation. If you believe you or your religious organization has been improperly deprived of a lawful use of its property, please contact us.
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