Court Struck Down Zoning Ordinance Used to Prohibit Religious Meetings in Private Residences

A federal court in Connecticut struck down a zoning ordinance that was used to prohibit

A federal court in Connecticut struck down a zoning ordinance that was used to prohibit religious meetings in private residences.

An individual conducted three meetings each week in his home, which were attended by about ten persons. In response to a neighbor's complaint, the city notified the homeowner that no further religious meetings could be conducted in his home unless he received city approval. The city cited a zoning ordinance that required city approval of any use of property for religious purposes. No standards were set forth in the ordinance to guide the city's exercise of its discretion.

The court held that the ordinance was void on account of "vagueness." In particular, it did not "assure with certainty whether one may hold Passover Seder in his home, whether he may light a Hannakuh Menorah, meet with a group of youths in one's home to prepare them for the reception of the sacraments of confirmation or communion, or gather with friends to discuss the Bible."

This lack of clarity, and the absence of standards to guide the city in the exercise of its discretion, rendered the ordinance unconstitutional: "The regulation under review, is one which gives an administrative official discretionary power to control in advance the right of citizens to exercise constitutionally protected activities—specifically the free exercise of religion and the right to freely associate with others—and as such it is clearly invalid as a prior restraint on the exercise of such activities." Nichols v. Planning and Zoning Commission, 667 F. Supp. 72 (D. Conn. 1987)

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