Justice Department Files Statement of Interest in New York Church Religious Land Use Case
The Justice Department today filed a Statement of Interest in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York supporting a church’s claim that the Village of Canton, New York, violated its rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) by barring it from locating its church in the Village’s commercial zoning district.
“Federal law protects the ability of religious groups of all faiths to locate and grow their worship sites in communities across the country,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “It includes a requirement that religious assemblies be treated equally with nonreligious assemblies. The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing this and other federal protections for religious freedom.”
“The right to the free exercise of religion includes the freedom to assemble in a house of worship,” said Grant C. Jaquith, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York. “When faith communities face discrimination through zoning or land use regulation, we will use the full force of federal law to ensure that this fundamental right is not unlawfully infringed.”
The case, Christian Fellowship Centers of New York, Inc. v. Village of Canton, involves a congregation that purchased property in the Village’s commercial zoning district to use for worship. After the Village denied zoning approval, the church filed a lawsuit alleging that the Village violated RLUIPA because the Village permits other assemblies in the commercial district, including theaters, fraternal organizations and social clubs. The church also stated in court filings that it is seeking to hold worship services this Sunday, March 31, at the property it purchased in the commercial zoning district. The church has no other location options to hold its religious services on that date.
The United States’ Statement of Interest supports the Christian Fellowship Centers of New York Inc.’s argument that RLUIPA’s “equal terms” provision treated the church less favorably than the various other groups permitted in the district.
RLUIPA is a federal law that protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations. Last year, the Justice Department announced its Place to Worship Initiative, which focusses on RLUIPA’s provisions that protect the rights of religious institutions to worship on their land. More information is available at http://www.justice.gov/crt/placetoworship.
In July 2018, the Department of Justice announced the formation of the Religious Liberty Task Force. The Task Force brings together Department components to coordinate their work on religious liberty litigation and policy, and to implement the Attorney General’s 2017 Religious Liberty Guidance.
Individuals who believe they have been subjected to discrimination in land use or zoning decisions may contact the Civil Rights Division Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at (800) 896-7743, or on the complaint portal on the Place to Worship Initiative website.