Hope Lutheran Church v. City of St. Ignace (W.D. Mich.)

Overview: 

OnOn March 19, 2019, the United States filed a Statement of Interest in Hope Lutheran Church v. City of St. Ignace, MI (W.D. Mich.), a case brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).  The case involves Hope Lutheran Church (Hope), a religious organization that purchased property in St. Ignace’s (City) downtown General Business District (GBD) to assemble for worship and hold Bible studies.  In its filed complaint, Hope alleges that the City barred it from operating in the GBD, even though the City permits other similarly situated secular assembly uses to operate in the district, including municipal buildings, assembly halls, and theaters.  Hope filed a motion for preliminary/permanent injunction asking the court to find that the City has violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which the City opposed, arguing that it had legitimate zoning criterion, such as tax generation and the impact of Michigan’s law limiting the distance between churches and liquor-serving establishments, to bar Hope from operating in the GBD.  The City also filed a motion to dismiss Hope’s complaint, arguing that the church fails to allege facts sufficient to state a violation of RLUIPA. The Division argued in the statement of interest that Hope’s allegations state a claim under RLUIPA’s equal terms provision, and that the City’s justifications for barring churches from the GBD, such as tax generation and the impact of Michigan’s law limiting the distance between churches and liquor-serving establishments, are not valid bases under RLUIPA to treat churches less favorably than similarly situated secular assemblies.  On May 22, 2019, the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan issued an opinion denying the City’s motion to dismiss, holding that Plaintiff has pleaded sufficient facts to state an equal terms claim under RLUIPA.  The court reasoned that revenue maximization and concerns regarding liquor licensing are not compelling to justify unequal treatment because there is nothing in the City’s ordinances that discusses revenue maximization or concerns over liquor licensing in the GBD.

Press Release (3/19/19)

Case Open Date: 
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Case Name: 
Hope Lutheran Church v. City of St. Ignace (W.D. Mich.)
Topic: 
Civil Rights
Tags: 
western District of Michigan
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
RLUIPA
zoning
General Business District
church
worship
Bible study
tax generation
2:18-cv-00155-PLM-MV
Industry Code: 
None
Component: 
Civil Rights Division
Civil Rights - Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
Updated May 31, 2019