On July 22, 2016, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice released an update to its September 2010 Report on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. (The update is available at https://www.justice.gov/crt/religious-land-use-and-institutionalized-persons-act.) The update details the Justice Department’s RLUIPA enforcement actions from September 2010 to the present and is a clear indication that cities must be mindful of the requirements of RLUIPA in making land-use planning decisions involving protected entities.
RLUIPA was enacted to protect against religious discrimination in two areas: (1) the application of land-use laws to places of worship and other religious uses of property; and (2) the religious rights of persons confined to institutions. Since September 2010, the Civil Rights Division has:
- Opened 45 RLUIPA land-use investigations,
- Filed 8 RLUIPA lawsuits involving land use, and
- Filed 8 amicus briefs in privately filed RLUIPA land-use cases.
Among the findings of the report, since 2010:
- 55% of the RLUIPA land-use investigations involved communities of various minority faiths including Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists.
- The other 45% of investigations involved Christian congregations, of which more than half involved predominantly African American, Latino, and Asian-American churches.
- Among the increase in RLUIPA investigations, investigations involving Muslim religious communities have increased at a faster pace than investigations of other faith communities.
- 49% of the RLUIPA investigations involved disparate treatment between religious and nonreligious assemblies.
- The 45 RLUIPA investigations represented a 47% increase in investigations per year, as compared to the years 2000-2010.
The Civil Rights Division indicated that it will continue to vigorously pursue enforcement of RLUIPA in the land-use context. Consequently, it is important for governmental entities to consider RLUIPA when making any land-use decision affecting a place of worship or property used for religious purposes.