DOJ Unveils ‘Place to Worship’ Initiative

The Department of Justice’s ‘Place to Worship’ initiative highlights the protections afforded under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has unveiled the “Place to Worship” initiative, which highlights a landmark, decades-old federal law protecting individuals, churches, and religious organizations.  

The initiative explains the protections afforded under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), and lays out the steps religious leaders can take when they encounter resistance or challenges to their property-related activities by local, state, and federal government agencies and officials.

For Members:

This five-part virtual roundtable, featuring a group of attorneys and RLUIPA experts, shares RLUIPA’s origins, and key provisions, along with insights into how RLUIPA might help your church if the need ever arises.

RLUIPA violations

Examples of RLUIPA violations by government actors, the DOJ says, can include:

  • A city or county denies a church a building permit to add Sunday school classes. But, the city cannot provide a compelling reason for the denial.
  • A mosque leases a storefront space, but the city denies an occupancy permit because zoning restrictions disallow houses of worship. Meanwhile, those restrictions allow fraternal organizations, meeting halls, and banquet facilities.
  • A building official denies a permit to build a Jewish temple that meets all requirements. The building official is later heard making anti-semitic remarks.

“Over the last 23 years, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act has helped to combat religious discrimination by protecting the civil rights of faith communities across the country,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “In light of continued anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination, the Justice Department stands ready to use federal civil rights law to ensure that communities can use their property for worship and to freely engage in religious exercise. The anniversary of RLUIPA provides an opportunity to underscore our commitment to protecting religious rights and ensuring that people are able to freely use land to worship and practice their faith.”

Click here to report a suspected RLUIPA violation.

It is important to remember local municipalities are sometimes subject to penalties for RLUIPA violations. A good example? A case out of Florida, where a city faces fees and damages for violating RLUIPA.

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