Christian Fellowship Centers of NY, Inc. v. Village of Canton, NY (N.D.N.Y.)
On March 26, 2019, the United States filed a Statement of Interest in Christian Fellowship Centers of New York, Inc. v. Village of Canton, NY (N.D.N.Y.), a case brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). The case involves Christian Fellowship Centers of New York, Inc. (“CFC”), a religious organization that purchased property in the Village of Canton’s (“Village”) downtown C-1 Commercial District to assemble for worship and conduct other religious activities. In its filed Complaint, CFC alleges that the Village barred it from operating in the C-1 district, even though the Village’s zoning law permits other similarly situated secular assembly uses to operate in the district, including municipal buildings, charitable and social clubs, and theaters. CFC filed a motion for a preliminary injunction asking the court to find that the Village’s zoning law facially violates RLUIPA’s equal terms provision, which the Village opposed, arguing that it had legitimate zoning goals, such as promoting commercial enterprise in the C-1 district and the impact of New York’s law limiting the distance between churches and liquor-serving establishments, to bar CFC from operating in the C-1 district. The Division argued in the Statement of Interest that CFC is likely to prevail on the merits of its RLUIPA equal term claim, and that the Village’s justifications for barring churches from the C-1 district are not valid bases under RLUIPA to treat churches less favorably than similarly situated secular assemblies. On March 29, 2019, the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York issued an opinion granting CFC’s motion for a preliminary injunction and enjoining the Village from enforcing the ordinance to prevent CFC from using the property as a church until further proceedings are held. The Court reasoned that CFC has a likelihood of success to prevail on the merits of its RLUIPA equal terms claim because the ordinance treats religious assemblies less well than secular assemblies and the interests articulated by the Village are not compelling to justify unequal treatment.