The Special Litigation Section enforces the provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) that protects the religious exercise of persons confined to institutions covered by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. This provision prohibits a state or local government from substantially burdening the religious exercise of such an institutionalized person, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means available to further that interest. The Department of Justice is authorized to investigate alleged violations of RLUIPA and to file civil lawsuits seeking injunctive or declaratory relief. In addition, RLUIPA enables private individuals to seek judicial remedies for violations of the statute. RLUIPA applies to cases in which the alleged substantial burden on religious exercise occurs in a program receiving federal financial assistance or affects interstate commerce.
ï½§ 2000cc. Protection of land use as religious exercise
(a) Substantial burdens
(1) General rule
No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or institution--
(A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
(2) Scope of application
This subsection applies in any case in which--
(A) the substantial burden is imposed in a program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability;
(B) the substantial burden affects, or removal of that substantial burden would affect, commerce with foreign nations, among the several States, or with Indian tribes, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability; or
(C) the substantial burden is imposed in the implementation of a land use regulation or system of land use regulations, under which a government makes, or has in place formal or informal procedures or practices that permit the government to make, individualized assessments of the proposed uses for the property involved.
(b) Discrimination and exclusion
(1) Equal terms
No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.
No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation that discriminates against any assembly or institution on the basis of religion or religious denomination.
(3) Exclusions and limits
No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation that--
(A) totally excludes religious assemblies from a jurisdiction; or
(B) unreasonably limits religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.
ï½§ 2000cc-1. Protection of religious exercise of institutionalized persons
(a) General rule
No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution, as defined in section 1997 of this title, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person--
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(b) Scope of application
This section applies in any case in which--
(1) the substantial burden is imposed in a program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance; or
(2) the substantial burden affects, or removal of that substantial burden would affect, commerce with foreign nations, among the several States, or with Indian tribes.
ï½§ 2000cc-2. Judicial relief
(a) Cause of action
A person may assert a violation of this chapter as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government. Standing to assert a claim or defense under this section shall be governed by the general rules of standing under Article III of the Constitution.
(b) Burden of persuasion
If a plaintiff produces prima facie evidence to support a claim alleging a violation of the Free Exercise Clause or a violation of section 2000cc of this title, the government shall bear the burden of persuasion on any element of the claim, except that the plaintiff shall bear the burden of persuasion on whether the law (including a regulation) or government practice that is challenged by the claim substantially burdens the plaintiff's exercise of religion.
(c) Full faith and credit
Adjudication of a claim of a violation of section 2000cc of this title in a non-Federal forum shall not be entitled to full faith and credit in a Federal court unless the claimant had a full and fair adjudication of that claim in the non-Federal forum.
(f) Authority of United States to enforce this chapter
The United States may bring an action for injunctive or declaratory relief to enforce compliance with this chapter. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to deny, impair, or otherwise affect any right or authority of the Attorney General, the United States, or any agency, officer, or employee of the United States, acting under any law other than this subsection, to institute or intervene in any proceeding.
If the only jurisdictional basis for applying a provision of this chapter is a claim that a substantial burden by a government on religious exercise affects, or that removal of that substantial burden would affect, commerce with foreign nations, among the several States, or with Indian tribes, the provision shall not apply if the government demonstrates that all substantial burdens on, or the removal of all substantial burdens from, similar religious exercise throughout the Nation would not lead in the aggregate to a substantial effect on commerce with foreign nations, among the several States, or with Indian tribes.
ï½§ 2000cc-3. Rules of construction
(a) Religious belief unaffected
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to authorize any government to burden any religious belief.
(b) Religious exercise not regulated
Nothing in this chapter shall create any basis for restricting or burdening religious exercise or for claims against a religious organization including any religiously affiliated school or university, not acting under color of law.
(c) Claims to funding unaffected
Nothing in this chapter shall create or preclude a right of any religious organization to receive funding or other assistance from a government, or of any person to receive government funding for a religious activity, but this chapter may require a government to incur expenses in its own operations to avoid imposing a substantial burden on religious exercise.
(d) Other authority to impose conditions on funding unaffected
Nothing in this chapter shall--
(1) authorize a government to regulate or affect, directly or indirectly, the activities or policies of a person other than a government as a condition of receiving funding or other assistance; or
(2) restrict any authority that may exist under other law to so regulate or affect, except as provided in this chapter.
(e) Governmental discretion in alleviating burdens on religious exercise
A government may avoid the preemptive force of any provision of this chapter by changing the policy or practice that results in a substantial burden on religious exercise, by retaining the policy or practice and exempting the substantially burdened religious exercise, by providing exemptions from the policy or practice for applications that substantially burden religious exercise, or by any other means that eliminates the substantial burden.
(f) Effect on other law
With respect to a claim brought under this chapter, proof that a substantial burden on a person's religious exercise affects, or removal of that burden would affect, commerce with foreign nations, among the several States, or with Indian tribes, shall not establish any inference or presumption that Congress intends that any religious exercise is, or is not, subject to any law other than this chapter.
(g) Broad construction
(h) No preemption or repeal
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to preempt State law, or repeal Federal law, that is equally as protective of religious exercise as, or more protective of religious exercise than, this chapter.
If any provision of this chapter or of an amendment made by this chapter, or any application of such provision to any person or circumstance, is held to be unconstitutional, the remainder of this chapter, the amendments made by this chapter, and the application of the provision to any other person or circumstance shall not be affected.
ï½§ 2000cc-4. Establishment Clause unaffected
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to affect, interpret, or in any way address that portion of the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting laws respecting an establishment of religion (referred to in this section as the "Establishment Clause"). Granting government funding, benefits, or exemptions, to the extent permissible under the Establishment Clause, shall not constitute a violation of this chapter. In this section, the term "granting", used with respect to government funding, benefits, or exemptions, does not include the denial of government funding, benefits, or exemptions.
ï½§ 2000cc-5. Definitions
In this chapter:
The term "claimant" means a person raising a claim or defense under this chapter.
(3) Free Exercise Clause
The term "Free Exercise Clause " means that portion of the First Amendment to the Constitution that proscribes laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
The term "government"--
(i) a State, county, municipality, or other governmental entity created under the authority of a State;
(ii) any branch, department, agency, instrumentality, or official of an entity listed in clause (i); and
(iii) any other person acting under color of State law; and
(B) for the purposes of sections 2000cc-2(b) and 2000cc-3 of this title, includes the United States, a branch, department, agency, instrumentality, or official of the United States, and any other person acting under color of Federal law.
(5) Land use regulation
The term "land use regulation" means a zoning or landmarking law, or the application of such a law, that limits or restricts a claimant's use or development of land (including a structure affixed to land), if the claimant has an ownership, leasehold, easement, servitude, or other property interest in the regulated land or a contract or option to acquire such an interest.
(6) Program or activity
The term "program or activity" means all of the operations of any entity as described in paragraph (1) or (2) of section 2000d-4a of this title.
(7) Religious exercise
(A) In general
The term "religious exercise" includes any exercise of religion, whether ornot compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.
The use, building, or conversion of real property for the purpose of religious exercise shall be considered to be religious exercise of the person or entity that uses or intends to use the property for that purpose.>