Justice Department Files Suit Against Pittsfield Charter Township, Michigan, Over Denial of Zoning Approval for Islamic School
The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against Pittsfield Charter Township, Michigan, alleging that the township violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when it denied zoning approval to allow the Michigan Islamic Academy (MIA) to build a school on a vacant parcel of land located in the township. The case was brought by the department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Michigan.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit, alleges that Pittsfield Charter Township imposed a substantial burden on MIA’s exercise of religion when it refused to grant its request for rezoning to allow MIA to build a new school on a vacant parcel of land in the township. MIA, currently located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, sought to build in Pittsfield Township because it requires additional space for religious and secular educational purposes.
“Religious freedom is a cornerstone of our society, and that freedom includes being able to create the institutions and physical spaces needed for worship, religious education and other aspects of religious exercise,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that all religious groups enjoy the right to practice their faiths freely, and will continue to challenge local land use decisions that substantially burden religious exercise.”
“The law prohibits the government from imposing land use regulations that substantially burden religious exercise unless there is a compelling government interest and uses the least restrictive means of doing so,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan. “This complaint alleges that Pittsfield Township denied the Michigan Islamic Academy's request to build a school in violation of that law. We filed this lawsuit to protect the right of all Americans to practice their religion and receive the religious instruction and education of their choice.”
The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must still be proven in federal court.
RLUIPA, enacted in 2000, contains multiple provisions prohibiting religious discrimination and protecting against unjustified burdens on religious exercise. Persons who believe that they been subjected to religious discrimination in land use or zoning may contact the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at (800) 896-7743 or the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Michigan’s Civil Rights Hotline at (313) 226-9151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about RLUIPA, including a report on the department’s enforcement, may be found at http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/rluipaexplain.php.