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Illinois Islamic Congregation Can Proceed with RLUIPA Claims

Written by Admin on January 21, 2013 Category: Religious Institutions, RLUIPA

A recent federal court decision allowed an Islamic congregation to go forward with religious land use discrimination claims against a county in Illinois. In Islamic Center of Western Suburbs v. County of DuPage, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179042 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 18, 2012), the Islamic Center purchased land, zoned single-family residential, on which to create a permanent place of worship. In DuPage County “religious institutions,” which included mosques and other Islamic religious facilities, were authorized conditional uses in single-family residential districts as long as the County preapproved the use.

The County laid out a multi-step process to obtain approval for a conditional use, the first of which is filing a conditional use application with the Zoning Board of Appeals. The Islamic Center submitted an application that met or exceeded all regulations set forth in the County’s zoning ordinance. Despite its finding that the Islamic Center’s proposed conditional use complied with the zoning ordinance, the Zoning Board of Appeals voted to deny the application out of concern that if the Islamic Center chose to develop at a different site in the future, it was possible that the current site could become vacant or blighted. The Board also determined that the proposed use did not meet a recent zoning ordinance amendment that was not in effect when the Islamic Center submitted its application. An amended application then went before the County Development Committee, which recommended approval and denied approval.

The Islamic Center filed suit, alleging the County violated RLUIPA’s equal terms provision by applying different standards when considering its application in comparison with other religious and secular conditional uses. The County sought to have the claim dismissed on ripeness grounds since the Islamic Center had not sought a variance for parking, but the Court determined such a variance was not needed, and even if it were, it would not help resolve the RLUIPA claims. The Islamic Center also brought a claim under RLUIPA’s substantial burden and unreasonable limitations provisions. The County challenged the Center’s standing to raise these claims and argued that raising a second RLUIPA claims was duplicative, but the Court quickly dismissed the County’s arguments. The Court also allowed the Islamic Center’s “class of one” equal protection claim to go forward even though the Center had not yet named a similarly situated comparator, and the Center could also proceed on claims of religious discrimination pursuant to the Illinois Constitution.

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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.