Catholic Diocese’s RLUIPA and First Amendment Claims Over Proposed Cemetery Allowed to Proceed: Part 5, Substantial Burden Claim Under RLUIPA and Free Exercise

This is the fifth post in our series looking at the long-running dispute between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center and the Village of Old Westbury over the Diocese’s proposed cemetery. Today’s post focuses on the substantial burden claim brought under RLUIPA.

The second issue the Court addressed was the RLUIPA claims, the first of which was a substantial burden claim. Regarding substantial burden claims, RLUIPA uses a burden shifting standard whereby the plaintiff must show prima facie that the challenged rule creates a substantial burden on the exercise of its religious beliefs, and if it does so, the defendant must show a compelling government interest and that the law is narrowly tailored. Here, the Diocese argued that even absent outright denial, the conditions attached were an arbitrary and unreasonable burden. For example, the 5-year renewal provision means that the term of burials cannot be guaranteed as permanent, a basic requirement of a cemetery. Moreover, revocation of a special exemption permit would not be appealable. The Court found that this met the prima facie requirements for a RLUIPA claim but that there existed a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the means were narrowly tailored.

Furthermore, as RLUIPA mirrors the First Amendment in application, these same questions of material fact were found to apply to the Free Exercise claim under the First Amendment as well. Thus the Court denied summary judgment on both the RLUIPA substantial burden and Free Exercise claims.

The next post in this series will look at the Diocese’s equal terms claim under RLUIPA.

The case is The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, v. The Incorporated Village Of Old Westbury, 2015 WL 5178126 (E.D.N.Y.)

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