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    United States Attorney's Office
    Central District of California

    Thom Mrozek
    Public Affairs Officer

    (213) 894-6947
    thom.mrozek@usdoj.gov



    Return to the 2010 Press Release Index
    Release No. 10-131

    September 13, 2010

    JUSTICE DEPARTMENT FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST THE CITY OF WALNUT ALLEGING RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION

    LOS ANGELES – The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit against the city of Walnut, California, alleging that the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 when it denied a conditional use permit to the Chung Tai Zen Center to build and operate a Buddhist house of worship at property it then owned in the city.

    The lawsuit filed this morning in United States District Court alleges that until it denied the Zen Center’s application in January 2008, the city had not rejected any application for a conditional use permit to build, expand or operate a house of worship since at least 1980. The complaint further alleges that the city treated the Zen Center differently than similarly situated religious and non-religious facilities. For example, the complaint alleges that in August 2008, the city approved a conditional use permit for a Catholic church that, when completed, will be larger than the Zen Center’s proposed facility.  The complaint also alleges that between 1998 and 2003, the city built a civic center complex two blocks from Zen Center’s former location in Walnut.

    “Religious freedom is among our most cherished rights, and our nation’s laws prohibit cities and towns from discriminating based on religion when they make zoning decisions related to houses of worship,” said Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “No faith should be singled out for inferior treatment when it seeks to build a house of worship in compliance with local zoning laws.”

    United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. stated: “Upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans is one of the most important objectives of the Department of Justice and this office. We are committed to combating religious discrimination and promoting religious liberty for all people, regardless of their faith or religious denomination. RLUIPA is an important tool in protecting individuals and houses of worship from discriminatory and unduly burdensome zoning regulations.”

    The government’s complaint seeks a court order declaring that the actions of the city with respect to the Zen Center violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). The lawsuit also seeks an injunction to prohibit the city from discriminating against the Zen Center and other religious entities and institutions that seek to operate in Walnut.

    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.  Additional information about the Justice Department's efforts to combat religious discrimination may be found at www.usdoj.gov/crt/religdisc/religionpamp.htm.

    The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must be proven in federal court.

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    Release No. 10-131

    Return to the 2010 Press Release Index