WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced a settlement with Henrico County, Va., resolving allegations that the county violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when it denied the application of a Muslim organization to rezone property to construct a mosque. The settlement, which must still be approved by a federal district judge in Richmond, resolves a lawsuit between the United States and the county of Henrico.
“Religious freedom is one of our most cherished rights, and that right includes the ability to assemble and build places of worship without facing discrimination,” said Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “We are pleased that the county of Henrico has agreed to take steps to ensure that all people exercising this basic American right will not encounter discrimination during the zoning and land use process.”
“The law – not stereotypes or bias – should dictate whether a worship facility can be built in a community.” said Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “No one should be discriminated against based on their religion, and this agreement will ensure that religious freedom is upheld in Henrico County.”
The case arose from the county’s denial of a 2008 application from a Muslim organization for construction of a mosque. The government’s complaint, which was filed with the court along with a consent decree resolving the lawsuit, alleged that the county’s denial of the rezoning application was based on the religious bias of county officials and to appease members of the public who, because of religious bias, opposed the construction of a mosque. The complaint further alleged that the county treated the Muslim organization differently than non-Muslim religious groups that regularly have been granted similar rezoning requests.
As part of the settlement, the county has agreed to treat the mosque and all religious groups equally and to publicize its non-discrimination policies and practices. The county also agreed that its leaders and various county employees will attend training on the requirements of RLUIPA. In addition, the county will report periodically to the Justice Department.
RLUIPA, enacted in 2000, prohibits religious discrimination in land use and zoning decisions. Persons who believe that they been subjected to religious discrimination in land use or zoning may contact the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-896-7743. More information about RLUIPA, including a report on the first 10 years of its enforcement, may be found at www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/rluipaexplain.php .