Religious Land Use and Zoning Leaders

National RLUIPA Experience to Help You Grow

Religious School RLUIPA, Land Use and Zoning Legal Services

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If your religious school is seeking to expand its campus or add on to existing structures and you are facing opposition from the local planning commission, city council or other local governing body, you aren’t out of options. The Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act protects religious organizations like yours against discrimination in land use and zoning matters.

Led by experienced RLUIPA attorneys Daniel P. Dalton and Noel W. Sterett, the religious land use team at the law firm Dalton & Tomich, PLC has successful defended the rights of schools, churches and other religious institutions across the country. They are a nationally recognized authorities in religious land use and zoning and the author of the only book dedicated to RLUIPA, titled Litigating Religious Land Use Cases.

Dalton partnered with the Academy of Our Lady of Peace in San Diego, California to protect the right of the girls’ Catholic school to modernize its facility when it was faced with unfounded opposition from the city council. Working in close collaboration with local attorneys and the school’s leadership team, Dalton secured a settlement that included cash as well as fast-tracked approval for all requested permits.

When school leaders hire Dalton & Tomich to help them advance their institutional goals, they gain more than just an experiencd legal team. We become deeply invested in the well-being of the school’s stakeholders, from administrators and teachers to students and parents.

From the outset of the engagement, our first goal and top priority is to fully understand your objectives and identify any barriers preventing you from achieving them. We will help you overcome whatever it is that stands in the way of your goals. Our partnerships with schools and other religious institutions include serving both as general counsel and special litigation counsel.

Our legal services for schools engaged in religious land use and zoning cases under RLUIPA, RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) or other legislation, include:

  • working to secure approval, or denial, from a local planning commission or other local administrative body when necessary
  • providing advice on how to move forward with the local administrative process
  • identifying and securing expert witnesses to support your action in court, which could include professionals and experts in zoning, planning, traffic and other areas
  • gathering all the facts and evidence
  • collaborating with you to find the ideal way to prepare and finalize pleadings, then filing suit
  • filing a Motion for Preliminary Injunction at the outset if there is an opportunity to do so
  • depending on your needs and the interests of your school stakeholders, pursuing settlement or moving forward to trial
  • communicating with you to keep you updated on the progress of the case, and your budget, throughout the process


The experienced religious land use and zoning attorneys of Dalton & Tomich, PLC will defend your school’s right to grow and to pursue your mission freely so your community can thrive.

Connect with a RLUIPA attorney today.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Land use disputes raised by local religious schools can be supported by a number of different claims, including those under the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause, the Free Speech or Assembly Clauses, or the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection clause. Other federal statues may come into play as well, depending on the facts of your school land use case. These may include the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disability Act, as well as constitutional and statutory provisions at the state level. We evaluate each claim independently to determine the best strategy in moving forward on a claim to give you the best chance of succeeding at trial. For more on the question of what happens when RLUIPA doesn't apply, watch our video.

Religious schools and other religious entities have the same right to fair and equal treatment in zoning and land use matters as secular assembly uses. Local governments who discriminate against religious schools are often in violation of RLUIPA and the United States Constitution. Our free guide to religious school land use and zoning may be a helpful resource here.

Our video on what to do in the case of a zoning denial may be helpful here. First, you'll want to examine the zoning code to see if any additional internal appeals can be taken. If there are no internal appeals and if the facts of your case or the language of the zoning ordinance gives you the ability to challenge the denial, you can file suit in state or federal court asserting a cause of action under RLUIPA. Please don't hesitate to contact us. We are happy to help in these matters.

Conditional use permits provide that a religious use is permitted in the zoning district but not as of right. For the use to be permitted, the applicant must meet certain requirements or conditions in the ordinance and and secure approval from a local governing agency.

The answer here is a difficult one, as it depends on many different factors. In general though, the time frame from filing suit until you have a trial date is 18 months. The 18 months will include both high and low points, and may be something of a rollercoaster ride. Many aspects of the case are out of your control (for example the judge and changes in the law), so a timeframe and exact path is difficult to predict. 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.