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Church's Rights to Build Larger Facility Violated by County
Federal appeals court rules rights under Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act were violated.
Maryland
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Key point § 7-06.4. The federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act prohibits state and local governments from imposing a land-use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion unless the regulation is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

A federal appeals court ruled that a church's rights under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act may have been violated by a county's refusal to allow it to build a new and larger facility to accommodate its growing congregation. A Maryland church owns a place of worship and rents a nearby satellite facility. Its main facility seats 450 people and the satellite facility seats 300. Total weekly attendance for all services is about 1,500 people. To accommodate its congregation, the church must host four services every Sunday—three in its main facility and one in its satellite facility. The number of services restricts the length of the services, and forces communion to take place after the services.

Time and space limitations also sometimes require the church to cut short its important "altar call" practice, in which attendees may publicly dedicate their lives to Christ, join the church, or request specific prayers. After the service, the director of the altar call ministry conducts conversations with those who have come forward regarding their spiritual beliefs. Because the church itself lacks facilities to accommodate these conversations, the director must use a small, partitioned area in the visitor center.

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