As its name suggests, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc et seq., governs how religious land uses may be regulated. Therefore, a threshold question for every type of claim under RLUIPA is whether a land use regulation is even involved. If the problem or conflict does not stem from the implementation or imposition of a land use regulation, then RLUIPA’s various protections do not apply. So the question of what is and is not a “land use regulation” is an important one which courts have had to continue to resolve in cases across the country.
Thankfully, Congress defined “land use regulation” under RLUIPA as:
“a zoning or landmarking law, or the application of such a law, that limits or restricts a claimant’s use or development of land (including a structure affixed to land), if the claimant has an ownership, leasehold, easement, servitude, or other property interest in the regulated land or a contract or option to acquire such an interest.”
Have you recently purchased a building or land and discovered you can’t use it because it isn’t zoned for religious assembly? Learn how to navigate the process and win the right to use your property .Download Now
Congress further provided that RLUIPA’s terms are to be “construed in favor of a broad protection of religious exercise, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of [the] Act and the Constitution.”42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-3(g).
Recently, a federal court in Tennessee did just that in Layman Lessons Church v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville/ Davidson County, (MD TN, April 18, 2019). The court construed “land use regulation” broadly to include zoning and non-zoning processes which the government had used to restrict the religious disaster relief efforts of Layman Lessons Church. While Nashville argued that no land use regulation was involved because its Zoning Administrator had granted the Church’s zoning request to use the property, the Church argued that its use was still restricted by the City’s imposition of building code regulations and stop work orders that prevented the Church’s religious and charitable activities. The court held that “where the record supports the inference that a locality disingenuously used its procedures to obstruct and ultimately deny a plaintiff’s religious building, courts decline to insulate the municipality from liability with regard to its decisions on zoning issues simply because it decided them under the rubric of an ostensibly non-zoning process.”
You can read about how other courts have broadly construed the term “land use regulation” in Daniel Dalton’s book “Litigating Religious Land Use Cases.” If a land use regulation is restricting the religious exercise of your religious assembly or institution, please call us to discuss how we might help you.
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.
In 2015, Hope Rising Community Church experienced extreme opposition, the kind that would force it to close its doors and leave behind the families and youth it was so passionate about reaching. As the lead pastor I felt helpless, inferior and as if I had no […]Read More
Dalton & Tomich’s assistance in our RLUIPA matter has paved the way for our church to continue serving the community and for new churches in the area to thrive in the future. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your stand for religious […]Read More
The Urban Church will be forever grateful to Dalton & Tomich plc for navigating it through a difficult land use issue. Let them give you honest and caring advice because that’s exactly what they’ll do.Read More
Dalton & Tomich, PLC defended a complicated case at a church we insure. Not only is the firm professional, they understand how church business runs and work well within church leadership.Read More
Dalton & Tomich, PLC helped us immensely in the areas of litigation and negotiation! Their professionalism and understanding of church policy helped our church be victorious in a modern day religious land use battle. RLUIPA Religious Land Use Case: Lighthouse Community Church of GodRead More
Dalton & Tomich, PLC serves as General Counsel for the 144 churches within the Church of God in Michigan. The firm provides the legal expertise we need in dealing with the issues that arise during the course of fulfilling our ministry.Read More
I met Dan Dalton during a dark time for our church. He was recommended as the leading RLUIPA attorney in the nation. He demonstrated wisdom, expertise, a gentle nature, a calming inter-relational skill, genuineness, and a humble demeanor, while at the same time, being sharp, […]Read More
Mr. Dalton’s expertise and experience helped us through a very difficult legal journey, ultimately achieving a favorable outcome. His personal interest in helping our church went “above and beyond” just the call of duty. His understanding of both legal and spiritual matters seems to uniquely […]Read More