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Press Release

Justice Department Files Statement of Interest in Religious Land Use Case Involving Faith-Based Group That Feeds Homeless People in California

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department filed a statement of interest in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California explaining that the act of distributing food and drinks to people who are homeless by Micah’s Way, a faith-based organization that helps people in need, could be religious exercise under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).

The statement of interest was filed in Micah’s Way v. the City of Santa Ana, a lawsuit alleging that Santa Ana imposed a substantial burden on Micah’s Way’s religious exercise. At issue is the city’s denial of an occupancy certificate to Micah’s Way on the grounds that it was providing food and drinks to people who are homeless in violation of the city’s zoning ordinance. According to its complaint, Micah’s Way has a religious duty to help people in need, including by providing food and drink to someone who is hungry. After denying the occupancy certificate, the city informed Micah’s Way that it could not feed people who are homeless at its resource center under any circumstances and that if it continued to do so, Micah’s Way would be subject to fines and potential criminal prosecution.

The city filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing in part that providing food and drinks to people who are homeless is not religious exercise and that its denial of an occupancy certificate did not substantially burden Micah’s Way’s religious exercise. The department’s statement of interest argues that feeding people who are homeless may be religious exercise protected by RLUIPA and that the city’s denial of an occupancy certificate and complete prohibition on feeding people who are homeless may have imposed a substantial burden on Micah’s Way’s religious exercise, in violation of RLUIPA.

“Discriminatory barriers and land use restrictions against faith-based organizations is unlawful,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Many faith-based organizations across the country are on the front lines serving the needs of people experiencing homelessness. The Justice Department is committed to enforcing federal civil rights laws to ensure that all religious groups can freely exercise their religious beliefs.”

“The free exercise of religion is a bedrock principle of our nation,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada for the Central District of California. “Religious groups should be entitled to exercise their religion by providing charitable services based in their religious beliefs. Our office firmly opposes actions that block religious groups from carrying out their spiritual mission to help others in need.”

RLUIPA is a federal law that protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations. In June 2018, the Justice Department announced its Place to Worship Initiative, which focuses on RLUIPA’s provisions that protect the rights of houses of worship and other religious institutions to worship on their land. More information is available at

Individuals who believe they have been subjected to discrimination in land use or zoning decisions may contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office Civil Division’s Civil Rights Section at (213) 894-2879 or the Civil Rights Division Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at (833) 591-0291, or may submit a complaint through the complaint portal on the Place to Worship Initiative website. More information about RLUIPA, including questions and answers about the law and other documents, may be found at

Updated May 10, 2023

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 23-535