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The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act

The land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) protect individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws.

The Purpose of the Act

In passing this law, Congress found that the right to assemble for worship is at the very core of the free exercise of religion. Religious assemblies cannot function without a physical space adequate to their needs and consistent with their theological requirements. The right to build, buy, or rent such a space is an indispensable adjunct of the core First Amendment right to assemble for religious purposes. Religious assemblies, especially, new, small, or unfamiliar ones, may be illegally discriminated against on the face of zoning codes and also in the highly individualized and discretionary processes of land use regulation. Zoning codes and landmarking laws may illegally exclude religious assemblies in places where they permit theaters, meeting halls, and other places where large groups of people assemble for secular purposes. Or the zoning codes or landmarking laws may permit religious assemblies only with individualized permission from the zoning board or landmarking commission, and zoning boards or landmarking commission may use that authority in illegally discriminatory ways.

How the Act Works

To address these concerns, RLUIPA prohibits zoning and landmarking laws that substantially burden the religious exercise of churches or other religious assemblies or institutions absent the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. This prohibition applies in any situation where: (1) the state or local government entity imposing the substantial burden receives federal funding; (2) the substantial burden affects, or removal of the substantial burden would affect, interstate commerce; or (3) the substantial burden arises from the state or local government's formal or informal procedures for making individualized assessments of a property's uses.

In addition, RLUIPA prohibits zoning and landmarking laws that:

  • Treat churches or other religious assemblies or institutions on less than equal terms with nonreligious institutions;
  • Discriminate against any assemblies or institutions on the basis of religion or religious denomination;
  • Totally exclude religious assemblies from a jurisdiction; or
  • Unreasonably limit religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.
Next Steps
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