WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced that it reached a settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Department against the City of Waukegan, Ill., resolving allegations that the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) by treating religious assemblies less favorably than similar non-religious assemblies in several city zoning districts.
The settlement agreement, which must still be approved by a federal district judge, resolves the case between the United States and the City of Waukegan.
“Houses of worship should not face barriers to building or operating that are imposed by zoning codes merely because they are religious institutions,” said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously enforce civil rights laws on behalf of all religious groups.”
The United States’ lawsuit, filed concurrently with the settlement agreement, alleged that the city has imposed and implemented zoning code provisions that are more restrictive for houses of worship than for nonreligious assemblies and institutions such as clubs, lodges and meeting halls, in violation of RLUIPA. Under the terms of the consent order, the city must amend its zoning code within 60 days so that the code does not treat religious assemblies and institutions differently from comparable non-religious assemblies or institutions. The consent order also requires the city to provide training for personnel on RLUIPA’s requirements and post notices about this consent order at various locations.
RLUIPA, enacted in 2000, prohibits religious discrimination in landuse and zoning decisions. Since 2001, the Civil Rights Division has reviewed more than 154 cases involving RLUIPA and has opened 36 full investigations. These have included investigations of unequal treatment of houses of worship and religious schools. Most have been resolved amicably through voluntary modification of potentially discriminatory zoning regulations. Similarly, this case was resolved through successful pre-suit negotiations with the city.
Individuals who believe that they suffered religious discrimination in landuse or zoning may contact the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at 1-800-896-7743. Additional information about the Justice Department’s efforts to combat religious discrimination may be found at www.usdoj.gov/crt/religdisc/religionpamp.htm.