Zoning Restrictions

In larger cities and now trending to smaller villages and towns, we are seeing an uptick of zoning laws.  In a lot of zoning regulations, you will find certain areas of the city/village/town that prohibit religious entities.  In our current village, they have areas where you must go to the zoning commission to get approved for a variance or other areas which do not even allow for consideration for a variance and strictly prohibit churches.  Is this legal for the government to impose?   

In the year 2000, the “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate and signed into law by then President Bill Clinton.  This law prohibits the imposition of burdens on the ability of prisoners to worship as they please and gives churches and other religious entities a way to avoid zoning law restrictions on their property use.  

According to justice.gov, the RLUIPA contains the following:

Section 2(a) of RLUIPA bars land use/zoning restrictions that impose a “substantial burden” on the religious exercise of a person or institution, unless the government can show that: 

• it has a “compelling interest” for imposing the restriction and 

• the restriction is the least restrictive way for the government to further that interest.

Section 2(b)(3)(A) and (B) of RLUIPA provide: “No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation” that “totally excludes religious assemblies from a jurisdiction,” or “unreasonably limits religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.” 

For example: A town, seeking to preserve tax revenues, enacts a law that no new churches or other houses of worship will be permitted. Such a total exclusion may violate RLUIPA.

For more information: https://www.justice.gov/crt/religious-land-use-and-institutionalized-persons-act