Attorney General Announces Places of Worship Initiative
Dear Clients and Friends,
Recently the Attorney General announced a new initiative to protect houses of worship. Its focus is on protecting the ability of houses of worship and other religious institutions to build, expand, buy, or rent facilities-as provided by the land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
RLUIPA, enacted by Congress in 2000, protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations. Specifically, RLUIPA bars land use regulations that impose a substantial burden on religious exercise without a compelling justification, requires governments to treat houses of worship as favorably as nonreligious assemblies, and bars governments from discriminating among religions and from totally or unreasonably excluding houses of worship. In addition to providing for private lawsuits, RLUIPA gave enforcement authority to the Department of Justice.
The Place to Worship Initiative includes a number of measures designed to enhance the Department’s enforcement of RLUIPA and increase public awareness of this important law:
- Public educational materials: The Department has created informational materials, including a four-page color brochure on RLUIPA and a new Questions and Answers on RLUIPA document.
- Website with complaint portal to facilitate individuals and representatives of religious institutions to bring RLUIPA matters to the attention of the Department.
- New partnerships between the Civil Rights Division and United States Attorney’s Offices on RLUIPA, including the creation of special training and training materials on RLUIPA to enhance the capacity of the Department to investigate and bring RLUIPA cases.
- Community outreach events on RLUIPA in conjunction with U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country.
When announcing the initiative, Attorney General Jeff Session remarked “The Constitution doesn’t just protect freedom to worship in private-it protects the public exercise of religious belief, including where people worship together.”
This is significant because in Hodges, the Gay Marriage case, the Supreme Court focused on Worship in a buildings being protected but glaringly failing to cite the constitutional protections of the public exercise of beliefs.
Chief Justice John Roberts noted this in his dissent in Hodges where he stated : “The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.”
The Attorney General finishes by stating “By raising awareness about our legal rights, the Place to Worship Initiative will help us bring more civil rights cases, win more cases, and prevent discrimination from happening in the first place.”
Now that would be a good thing!
Rev. John P. Joseph, Esq. CCA