FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE |
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 17, 2004
TDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CLOSES RELIGIOUS ZONING DISCRIMINATION INVESTIGATION OF BRIGHTON TOWNSHIP, PENNSYLVANIA
WASHINGTON, D.C.- The Department of Justice today announced the closure of its investigation into allegations of religious discrimination by Brighton Township, Pennsylvania. The move followed changes the township made to its zoning code to eliminate discriminatory treatment of houses of worship.
The investigation was opened in January 2003 pursuant to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) after the township prevented a religious assembly, the Beaver Assembly of God, from expanding its church. The Brighton zoning code permitted houses of worship as a conditional use, but required them to satisfy a minimum lot size requirement of five acres. The Beaver Assembly of God’s church, which it had used since the early 1970's, occupied a 1.25 acre parcel. Having outgrown its facility, the church purchased an adjoining two acre lot and sought to build a larger church. Its zoning application was rejected pursuant to the five acre minimum requirement.
RLUIPA prohibits municipalities from treating religious assemblies less equally than non-religious assemblies. Under the same zoning code, non-religious uses with similar traffic and noise burdens, including assembly halls, fraternal organizations, and even adult movie theaters and cabarets, faced no such minimum acreage requirement. In January 2003, the church sued under RLUIPA, and the Department opened its investigation, seeking documents and information from the township.
The township subsequently amended its ordinance, eliminating the five acre requirement and creating a zone in which houses of worship are permitted as of right. The township also agreed to permit the church to proceed with construction on its property. In light of these developments, the Department of Justice has decided to close its investigation.
“Nothing justifies zoning laws that make it harder for people to assemble for religious exercise than for secular purposes such as civic meetings, fraternal gatherings, or movie-going, let alone adult entertainment,” said R. Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “We commend Brighton Township for recognizing the discrimination written into its zoning code, and for promptly correcting it.”
Congress enacted RLUIPA in September 2000. Since September 2001, the Civil Rights Division has opened 15 investigations into allegations of religious discrimination in local government land use and zoning practices in cases involving a wide range of religious traditions.
Individuals who believe that they suffered religious discrimination in land use or zoning may contact the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at 202-514-4713. Additional information on the Justice Department's efforts to combat religious discrimination may be found at <http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/religdisc/religionpamp.htm>.