Justice Department Reaches Agreement with Lomita, Calif., to Protect Religious Exercise
The Justice Department today announced a settlement with the city of Lomita, Calif., resolving allegations that the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when it denied the Islamic Center of the South Bay’s application to build a new mosque on its property. The settlement, which still must be approved by the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, is in the form of an agreed order and resolves a lawsuit filed today by the United States against the city.
The case arose from the Lomita City Council’s 2010 denial of an application by the Islamic Center to take down the aging, separate structures on its property, which it has been using for worship and various other religious activities since 1985, and construct a single building that would serve its needs. The government’s complaint, which was filed with the court along with the agreed order resolving the lawsuit, alleges that the structures currently being used by the Islamic Center are insufficient to enable the community to come together for worship and fellowship or to perform religious rituals properly. The lawsuit alleges that the city’s denial of the Islamic Center’s application to construct a new center in place of these inadequate facilities imposed a substantial burden on the religious exercise of the Islamic Center and its members.
“Religious freedom is among our most fundamental rights, and there are few aspects of that right more basic than the ability of a religious community to come together for worship and fellowship in a decent and appropriate setting on its own property,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “With RLUIPA, Congress has sought to ensure that this basic right is protected from encroachment by unjustified local zoning actions.”
“The right to religious freedom includes the ability to build places of worship and to assemble at those places,” said U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. “This settlement will ensure that worshippers at the Islamic Center will be able to exercise their rights and enjoy the cherished freedoms in our Constitution.”
As part of this settlement, which incorporates portions of a related agreement between the city and the Islamic Center, the city has agreed to consider a renewed application by the Islamic Center on an expedited schedule. The city also agreed that its leaders and employees who make land-use decisions will attend training on the requirements of RLUIPA. In addition, the city periodically will report to the Justice Department.
RLUIPA prohibits land use decisions that discriminate based on religion or impose substantial and unjustified burdens on religious exercise. Persons who believe their rights under RLUIPA have been violated may contact the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-896-7743. More information about RLUIPA, including a report on the first 10 years of its enforcement, may be found at www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/rluipaexplain.php .