The Religous Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and Zoning in the Inland Empire
May 11, 2011 Leave a comment
What is the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)?
RLUIPA was enacted by Congress in 2000. RLUIPA states, regarding land use, that the government may not “impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden” on religious exercise unless the government demonstrates that the imposition of that regulation (and its accompanying “burden”) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest,” and is the “least restrictive means of furthering that interest.” 42 United States Code section 2000cc. RLUIPA broadly defines the term “religious exercise,” to include “the use, building, or conversion of real property for the purpose of religious exercise.” 42 United States Code section 2000cc-5(7)(B). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that “for a land use regulation to impose a ‘substantial burden’ it must be ‘oppressive’ to a ‘significantly great’ extent. That is, a ‘substantial burden’ on ‘religious exercise’ must impose a significantly great restriction or onus upon such exercise.” San Jose Christian College v. City of Morgan Hill (9th Cir. 2004) 360 F.3d 1024, 1034.
RLUIPA also states that “no government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.” 42 United States Code section 2000cc(b)(1). The “equal terms” section requires the government to treat religious assembly uses in the same way it would a non-religious use.
RLUIPA adds a layer of federal regulation to local Inland Empire government’s land use authority. In discretionary land use decisions involving religious uses, local governments need to be familiar with the requirements of RLUIPA. When I was Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands, RLUIPA was an issue that arose from time to time in City Council and Planning Commission land use decision-making.