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Press Release

U.S. Attorney’s Office and Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Hold Forum on Civil Rights Protections for Religious Land Use

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division held an outreach forum yesterday on combatting religious discrimination and promoting religious liberty through enforcement of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

RLUIPA is a federal law that protects persons and religious institutions from discriminatory and overly burdensome land use regulations. U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger for the District of New Jersey and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Johnathan Smith of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division held the first of a series of public education and outreach events convened by the Civil Rights Division to ensure that communities know about their protections under RLUIPA and the work that the Justice Department is doing to enforce this important law. 

“Our office is committed to combatting religious discrimination and ensuring that religious groups are treated fairly and equally under local land use laws. RLUIPA provides important protections for religious groups throughout New Jersey. At the same time, we will continue to use every legal authority at our disposal to bring justice to those who commit illegal acts of hate, and we will confront anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and any form of religious hatred wherever it occurs. No one in the United States of America should have to live in fear of violence or discrimination because of how they worship or where they or their family came from.”

U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger

“The ability to practice one’s faith freely, and without interference, is a fundamental right, enshrined in our constitution and protected by our nation’s civil rights laws,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Smith. “The Justice Department is committed to protecting religious liberty. Recent events both domestically and abroad, have resulted in increasing threats to people of faith, including Jewish, Muslim, and other communities and institutions. It is in moments like this that we must refocus our efforts on protecting religious freedom for all people in our country.”

U.S. Attorney Sellinger, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Smith, religious leaders in New Jersey whose organizations have benefited from RLUIPA’s protections and attorneys who have experience litigating RLUIPA cases spoke at the event. Approximately 100 members of many religious communities, including Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities, attended the event. 

For more information about the event and others the Civil Rights Division plans to hold around the country, please see the department’s RLUIPA’s website. All events are open to the public.

RLUIPA was passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law on Sept. 22, 2000, and contains provisions covering religious land use and religious exercise by people who are incarcerated. Since RLUIPA’s passage, the Department has opened over 150 formal investigations and filed 28 lawsuits and 34 friend of the court briefs related to RLUIPA’s land use provisions, including several in the District of New Jersey. Since 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has filed four lawsuits and two friend of court brief’s related to RLUIPA’s land use provisions. 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 religious discrimination in land use or zoning decisions may file a complaint with the U.S Attorney’s Office at or call the U.S. Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Hotline at (855) 281-3339. Individuals may also contact the Civil Rights Division Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at (833) 591-0291 or submit a complaint through the complaint portal on the Place to Worship Initiative website. 

Updated October 31, 2023

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 23-319