(STL.News) – The Justice Department today announced that it has filed a lawsuit against the City of Troy, Michigan, alleging that the City violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) by treating places of worship worse than equivalent nonreligious assemblies in its zoning code and denying zoning approval to a Muslim group seeking to establish a place of worship.
“Zoning laws that treat mosques, churches, synagogues, and other religious assemblies less favorably than nonreligious assemblies illegally restrict religious exercise in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. “The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that local governments do not discriminate against faith communities in violation of federal law.”
“Troy is obligated to treat religious assemblies and institutions on equal terms with nonreligious assemblies and institutions,” said Matthew Schneider, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. “This complaint reflects our commitment to protect the religious liberties of all people in this district.”
The complaint, filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, alleges that in 2018 the City of Troy (City) denied zoning approval to Adam Community Center, an organization of Muslims who live and work in Troy, to operate a place of worship. In 2018, after a nine-year search for a permanent location in Troy, the Center acquired a building in one of the City’s commercial districts to use as a community center and place of worship. The City’s zoning laws allow a nonreligious place of assembly, such as a theater or banquet hall, to use the same building without further approval. But because of zoning restrictions on places of worship, the Center had to overcome an additional hurdle and seek City approval to use the building.
On June 19, 2018, Troy’s zoning board denied the Center’s application. The complaint alleges that the City’s denial of approval for the Center, and its unequal treatment of all places of worship in the City compared to nonreligious uses, violate a provision of RLUIPA that requires religious assemblies to be treated at least as well as nonreligious assemblies. The suit also alleges that the City’s actions imposed a substantial burden on the Center’s religious exercise in violation of another provision of RLUIPA.
RLUIPA is a federal law that protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations. In June 2018, the Justice Department announced its Place to Worship Initiative, which focuses on RLUIPA’s provisions that protect the rights of houses of worship and other religious institutions to worship on their land. More information is available at www.justice.gov/crt/placetoworship.
In July 2018, the Department of Justice announced the formation of the Religious Liberty Task Force. The Task Force brings together Department components to coordinate their work on religious liberty litigation and policy, and to implement the Attorney General’s 2017 Religious Liberty Guidance.