What is RLUIPA?

By Attorney Amy J. Parrish

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Act of 2000, 2 U.S.C. 2000cc. et seq. (RLUIPA) was passed by a unanimous vote of both the houses of Congress and signed into law on September 22, 2000. Congress passed this law in response to its finding that land use is one area where state and local governments could improperly impose substantial burdens on religious liberty because of the wide discretion regulators are given in granting and denying permits for land use. 

Specifically, Congressional hearings revealed that many localities were using facially neutral zoning laws to exclude religious groups from operating in commercial areas.

The land use provisions under RLUIPA consist of two main parts, and are laid out in Section 2 of the Act. The first part, Section 2(a), subjects land use restrictions that impose a significant burden on religious exercise to a compelling interest test to protect fundamental constitutional rights. Under this part, all land-use regulations presumptively apply to religious buildings until a religious group triggers the test by showing that land use officials have imposed a substantial burden on religious exercise. Then, to prevail against the claims, land use officials must show that they had a compelling, rather than just rational, reason to impose those burdens, and that they used the least restrictive means of achieving the compelling interest.

The second part of the land use provisions under RLUIPA, Section 2(b), ensures that religious assemblies and institutions can exist within a community and that they are not targeted for exclusion or unequal treatment because of their religious character. Section 2(b)(1) guarantees equal treatment among churches and comparable secular institutions, such as theaters.

Next, Section 2(b)(2) prevents the government from discriminating against churches on the basis of religion or religious denomination. Finally, Section 2(b)(3) prevents zoning officials from totally excluding religious assemblies from a jurisdiction or unreasonably limiting religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.

Our senior partner, Attorney John Mauck, was integral in the enactment of RLUIPA. Therefore, a large portion of the practice of each Mauck & Baker lawyer is devoted to representing churches in municipal zoning and related matters.

The protections of RLUIPA apply to zoning matters in all states, and allow us to lend our expertise to churches throughout the United States. Mauck & Baker lawyers have represented hundreds of churches in real estate transactions, zoning applications, out of court settlements, and litigation of zoning and religious liberties disputes. 

See Infographic: What is RLUIPA?