Although RLUIPA is mainly concerned with religious discrimination, racial animus towards a religious organization falls within the ambit of RLUIPA’s very broad protection. On February 7, 2019, the Fourth Circuit, citing the legislative history of RLUIPA, emphasized that “zoning board members or neighborhood residents explicitly offer race or religion as the reason to exclude a proposed church, especially in cases of black churches and Jewish shuls and synagogues.”
Reverend Lucy Ware was born in Kenya where she was active in her family church. After moving to the United States, she founded Jesus Christ is the Answer Ministries, Inc. (the “Church”) in 1997, in Baltimore, Maryland. Although a nondenominational church, it has associated with churches in Kenya and the Seychelles and, more importantly, many of its congregants were born in Africa.
In 2012, Reverend Ware purchased a property which, as her realtor correctly advised her, is within a zoning district where churches are “permitted as of right,” provided that their site plans comply “to the extent possible with [applicable] requirements” and can “otherwise be expected to be compatible with the character and general welfare of the surrounding residential premises.”
Unfortunately, after holding a service and cookout, the neighbors complained to Baltimore County officials. The complaints resulted in the Church receiving notice that the property could not be used as a church unless the use complies with, among other things, setback and parking requirements.
The County held a hearing on Reverend Ware’s first petition, seeking complete relief from the zoning requirements, as well as variances from parking requirements. During the hearing, the following disturbing comments were made by several neighbors opposing the petition: (1) “dancing and hollering like they back at their home back in Africa somewhere”; (2) she can come over here from Africa … branch out from another church and put all of this in our neighborhood”; and (3) “they were out here dancing like from Africa. We don’t have that in our block.
After a second petition was denied, Reverend Ware and the Church filed a federal lawsuit against Baltimore County, asserting RLUIPA and various constitutional violations. The district court dismissed the complaint, and the case went up on appeal. The Fourth Circuit completely disagreed with the lower court’s decision, holding that the facts alleged in the complaint assert plausible claims for relief. According to the Fourth Circuit, the neighbors’ “remarks clearly display ethnic bias, and they can plausibly be understood as displaying religious biastoo.”
If your religious assembly or institution has faced land use discrimination, please contact the attorneys at Dalton & Tomich who have successfully litigated these cases all across the country
Jesus Christ Is the Ans. Ministries, Inc. v. Baltimore County, Maryland, No. 18-1450, 2019 WL 469715, at *6 (4th Cir. Feb. 7, 2019) (emphasis added).
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