Justice Department and Bensalem Township Settle Lawsuit Over Alleged Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act Violations
The Justice Department today announced an agreement with Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania, to resolve allegations that the Township violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when the Township denied zoning approval to allow the Bensalem Masjid to build a mosque on three adjoining parcels of land in the Township.
“Federal law protects the rights of all religious communities to build places of worship free from discrimination,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This agreement ensures that all citizens of Bensalem Township may freely exercise this important civil right.”
The agreement resolves a lawsuit that the Department filed in July 2016. A separate agreement resolving a similar lawsuit brought by the Bensalem Masjid against Bensalem Township has also been reached.
The United States’ complaint alleged that the Bensalem Township’s denial of a variance imposed a substantial burden on the Bensalem Masjid’s religious exercise, treated the Bensalem Masjid less favorably than the township treated nonreligious assemblies and discriminated against the Bensalem Masjid on the basis of religion. The complaint also alleged that the township placed unreasonable limitations on religious assemblies generally through its land use regulations.
As part of the agreement, the Bensalem Masjid will be permitted to use the three adjoining properties for the purpose of building a mosque. The Township has also agreed to review and amend its zoning ordinance to comply with the requirements of RLUIPA. Additionally, the Township has agreed that it will advise its officials and employees about the requirements of RLUIPA, among other remedial measures.
RLUIPA contains multiple provisions prohibiting religious discrimination and protecting against unjustified burdens on religious exercise. Persons who believe they have been subjected to discrimination in land use or zoning decisions may contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Hotline at (855) 281-3339 or the Civil Rights Division Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at (800) 896-7743.
More information about RLUIPA, including questions and answers about the law and other documents, may be found at http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/rluipaexplain.php.