On July 22, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), Civil Rights Division released a report focusing on its enforcement of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), which prohibits discrimination relating to zoning, land use, etc. based on religious affiliation (a more full description of RLUIPA’s anti-discrimination provisions can be found in the report linked above at pages 3-4). The report updates the Civil Rights Division’s 10th Anniversary RLUIPA report from 2010 with details of subsequent enforcement activity between September 2010 and the present. Some of the highlights of the report include:
• 55% of RLUIPA land-use investigations by the DOJ involved minority faiths such as Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, which together account for less than 5% of the US population. Of the remaining 45% of investigations, which involved Christian congregations, more than half involved predominantly African American, Latino, and Asian-American churches.
• Since September 2010, the DOJ has opened 45 RLUIPA investigations, compared to a total of 51 from 2000 to 2010. This represents a 47% increase. Moreover, many of these cases are resolved with local governments either during or after the investigation; only eight of the 45 investigations required lawsuits to be filed.
• The number of RLUIPA land-use investigations involving Muslims rose from 14% from 2000 to 2010 to 38% in September 2010 to the present. However, while 84% of non-Muslim RLUIPA land-use matters resolve with favorable outcomes for the religious institution at the investigation stage, only 20% of Muslim RLUIPA land-use matters resolve with favorable outcomes at the investigation stage. Also, seven of the eight lawsuits cited above involved mosques or Islamic schools.
• 49% of the investigations handled by Justice Department since September 2010 involved disparate treatment between religious assemblies and nonreligious assemblies, such as clubs, community centers, and assembly halls.
The RLUIPA report update complements the findings in the RLUIPA section of the Combating Religious Discrimination Today final report. That report, based on the observations and recommendations of diverse religious and civil rights leaders, stated that Muslim land-use cases were a growing problem, as municipal officials were not treating religious assemblies on equal terms with nonreligious assemblies. The report concludes by recommending that the government do more to educate religious communities and local officials about RLUIPA, while noting DOJ officials have already held 55 events since September 2010 on the subject.