Religious Land Use and Zoning Leaders

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RLUIPA is the great equalizer in land use and zoning law. The law provides that local governments cannot discriminate against religious uses in the context of zoning. If secular uses are permitted in a zone, religious uses must also be permitted. Further, local governments may not exclude religious uses from their boundaries and cannot use zoning to unreasonably limit them. Further, if the zoning is applied in a manner that substantially burdens the exercise of religion, a court will exclude the same. The law is the congressional response to local governments excluding religious uses from their boundaries. For more about RLUIPA, including our "What is RLUIPA?" video, click here.

There are many other claims that can be raised to support a local ministry in a land use dispute. The claims may arise under the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause, the Free Speech or Assembly Clauses, or the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection clause. There are other federal statutes to look at as well, depending on the facts of your case. For example, there is the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disability Act and many states have their own constitutional and statutory provisions to examine. We evaluate each claim independently to determine what is the best strategy in moving forward on a claim to give you the best chance of succeeding at trial.

Religious entities have the same ability to be treated fairly and equally in all zoning and land use matters as secular assembly uses. Local governments who discriminate against churches and other religious institutions are often in violation of RLUIPA and the United States Constitution.

The first thing to do is look at the zoning code to see if there are any other internal appeals that can be taken. If none, then you can file suit in state or federal court asserting a cause of action under RLUIPA, if the facts of your case, or the language of the zoning ordinance, gives you the ability to challenge the denial. Please contact us to see what we can do.

Conditional use permits provide that a religious use is permitted in the zoning district but not as of right. The ordinance will have some requirements that an applicant will need to establish and secure approval from a local governing agency.

In general, the time frame from filing suit until you have a trial date is 18 months. The 18 months will not be easy or predictable. Litigation is akin to riding a rollercoaster – there are high points and low points, but not many level points. Much of the case depends on factors out of your control. That is, the judge assigned to the case has a tremendous impact as to how the case proceeds. The law changes as well. Simply put, there are no guarantees. Read more about the stages of the litigation process for a religious land use case on our blog. Our video on the time and expenses for a typical religious land use case would be another good resource.

Litigation can be very difficult and it is nearly impossible to determine up front what the economic and non-economic costs might be. Much of the answer depends on the response from the other side of the case. While we cannot tell you how much a case may cost, we can tell you (based on our extensive experience), the anticipated cost of cases moving forward. We understand that considering potential costs and all the other factors that go into choosing an attorney can be a frustrating process. We will work with you to alleviate that frustration, taking the time to understand your needs so we can help you determine your budget and the scope of services that will give you the best value for your money. Our video on the time and expenses for a typical religious land use case would be another good resource. We enjoy working with clients to formulate cost-effective and creative solutions so you can make the right choice.

About Us


Dalton & Tomich, PLC is the national leader in successfully helping churches, other religious institutions and their insurers defend their rights in land use and zoning matters under RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. We have helped clients win cases against municipalities and other local government bodies from coast to coast, with experience serving both as general counsel and special litigation counsel.