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Monday, June 19, 2017

Township Did Not Violate RLUIPA in Denying SUP for Religious School

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion upholding a local government decision to deny a special use permit to a religious school against a challenge that the decision violated RLUIPA (the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act). Livingston Christian Sch. v. Genoa Charter Twp.

The school entered into a lease agreement to relocate its operations to the Brighton Nazarene Church in Genoa Charter Township. The school applied for an amended special use permit, which the Township denied by a 4-3 vote. Shortly thereafter, the school sued the Township, alleging that the denial of its special use application violated RLUIPA. 

The court of appeals analyzed the school's argument that the denial was a "substantial burden" on the school's religious exercise under RLUIPA. The court noted that to be a substantial burden under RLUIPA, the burden must have some degree of severity - in other words, "not just any imposition on religious exercise will constitute a violation of RLUIPA." In applying this test to the school's claims, the court found  that the school had a feasible alternative location, including its former location, and remaining tat that location "would not have imposed a substantial burden" on the school. The court also rejected the school's argument that the denial of its special use application effectively barred it from operating anywhere within the Township's borders, holding that this alone does not constitute a substantial burden. The court noted that when a religious institution has an available alternative outside of the desired jurisdiction, and that location is reasonably close, traveling that distance is not a substantial burden on religious exercise. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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