The Justice Department announced today that it has dismissed its Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Peoples Act (RLUIPA), lawsuit against Stafford County in Virginia. This is because it received the relief it requested in the case. Specifically, in response to the department’s complaint, the County repealed ordinances that prevented the All Muslim Association of America (AMAA) from developing a religious cemetery for persons of the Islamic faith, approved the AMAA’s site plan for the cemetery, and, in a private settlement with the AMAA to resolve the AMAA’s lawsuit, agreed to pay $500,000 in damages to the AMAA. The notice of dismissal was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia today. It describes the additional steps the County took to comply with RLUIPA. The County implemented an internal procedure to deal with complaints from anyone who believes the County may have violated RLUIPA. It also provided RLUIPA training for County employees responsible for implementing and enforcing zoning regulations and posted notices about its obligations to comply RLUIPA on numerous County websites. RLUIPA notices were also placed in land application documents.
RLUIPA safeguards all people in their right of exercising their religion,” stated Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice is going to continue vigorously enforcing RLUIPA, through litigation if necessary, against zoning regulations that unreasonably hinder religious exercise. This included an ordinance that was passed in December 2016 by Stafford County that prohibited the AMAA’s development of an Islamic cemetery. County officials had confirmed that the proposed cemetery was allowed to be used on this property. The County knew that the AMAA couldn’t meet the new requirements. The United States sued the County, and they replaced the ordinance with a new one. However, it also imposed unreasonable restrictions on the group’s ability build a religious cemetery. The County also repealed the second ordinance in October and replaced it by one that allows cemeteries to be established without County approval. It does this within the same zoning area as the AMAA’s property and removes any other restrictions.
RLUIPA is a federal law which protects religious institutions against unduly burdensome and discriminatory land use regulations. The Place to Worship Initiative , was announced by the Justice Department in June 2018,. It focuses on RLUIPA’s provisions which protect houses of worship and other religious organizations’ rights to worship on their land. More information is available at www.justice.gov/crt/placetoworship.
Individuals who believe they have been subjected to discrimination in land use or zoning decisions may contact the Civil Rights Division Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at (833) 591-0291, or may submit a complaint through the complaint portal on the Place to Worship Initiative website. More information about RLUIPA, including questions and answers about the law and other documents, may be found at http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/rluipaexplain.php.