The land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc, et seq., protect individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws (for information on RLUIPA's institutionalized persons provisions, please refer to the Civil Rights Division's Special Litigation Section).
In September 2010, the Department of Justice issued a Report on the Tenth Anniversary of RLUIPA , as well as a Policy Statement on RLUIPA, which includes detailed questions and answers about the law. In July 2016, the Department issued an Update on RLUIPA Enforcement: 2010 – 2016.
A three-page color Guide to Federal Religious Land Use Protections, which can be printed for use by religious organizations, municipal officials, and others interested in learning more about the law, is available here.
On December 15, 2016, the Civil Rights Division sent a letter about RLUIPA’s requirements to mayors and other local officials that includes examples of cases and other resources.
Religious assemblies, especially, new, small, or unfamiliar ones, may be illegally discriminated against on the face of zoning codes and also in the highly individualized and discretionary processes of land use regulation. Zoning codes and landmarking laws may illegally exclude religious assemblies in places where they permit theaters, meeting halls, and other places where large groups of people assemble for secular purposes. Or the zoning codes or landmarking laws may permit religious assemblies only with individualized permission from the zoning board or landmarking commission, and zoning boards or landmarking commission may use that authority in illegally discriminatory ways.
To address these concerns, RLUIPA prohibits zoning and landmarking laws that substantially burden the religious exercise of churches or other religious assemblies or institutions absent the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. This prohibition applies in any situation where: (i) the state or local government entity imposing the substantial burden receives federal funding; (ii) the substantial burden affects, or removal of the substantial burden would affect, interstate commerce; or (iii) the substantial burden arises from the state or local government's formal or informal procedures for making individualized assessments of a property's uses. In addition, RLUIPA prohibits zoning and landmarking laws that:
(1) treat churches or other religious assemblies or institutions on less than equal terms with nonreligious institutions;
(2) discriminate against any assemblies or institutions on the basis of religion or religious denomination;
(3) totally exclude religious assemblies from a jurisdiction; or
(4) unreasonably limit religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.
The Department of Justice can investigate alleged RLUIPA violations and bring a lawsuit to enforce the statute. The Department can obtain injunctive, but not monetary, relief. Individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions can also bring a lawsuit in federal or state court to enforce RLUIPA.