County’s zoning ordinance violates Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)
Detroit—-September 27, 2021—National law firm Dalton & Tomich announced it has won an injunction on behalf of the Church at Jackson against Hinds County, Mississippi in a federal lawsuit filed under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). The Honorable Henry T. Wingate of United States District Court of Mississippi entered the injunction on Thursday, September 23.
In 2020, the church acquired a six-acre parcel of property located in an Agricultural District of Hinds County with the intention of using the property for religious assembly, prayer, and worship. After county officials found out that the church wanted to meet on the property, the church was told it needed to have the property rezoned to a special use district. The church then applied to have the property rezoned, only to have its application ultimately denied on April 19, 2021–after months of waiting and multiple hearings before the Hinds County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.
Under the Hinds County Zoning Ordinance, several nonreligious assembly uses, such as gymnasiums and arenas, are allowed to locate in the Agricultural District as of right, while religious assembly uses, such as churches, mosques and synagogues, are not allowed to locate there without obtaining special approval. The Church at Jackson’s lawsuit challenged these unequal terms under RLUIPA, which states that “[n]o government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.” 42 U.S.C. §2000cc(b)(1).
According to Dalton Tomich attorney Noel Sterett, this case highlights the growing need for religious institutions to know their rights under RLUIPA.
“Every year, many religious groups across the country suffer adverse zoning decisions and do not realize that there is a federal law that gives them substantial rights. No church in this country should have to fight for its right to gather for worship on land where other non-religious assemblies are freely allowed,” Sterett said. “Religious groups need to be aware of the protections they are granted under this federal law and municipalities should understand and respect those legal rights as well.”
The Church at Jackson plans to move forward with its building plans and hopes to be able to resolve the suit quickly with the County. Mississippi attorney Matthew Wilson served as local counsel in the case.
Dalton & Tomich is known for its experience litigating RLUIPA cases across the country. In 2020, the firm assisted City Walk-Urban Mission in expanding its transition home ministry in Wakulla County, Florida after the County unlawfully restricted the ability of the church to operate a religious transition home. Rather than fight the court’s injunction order, the County agreed to settle the case for $160,000 and additional provisions relating to the expansion of the ministry.
In 2019, the firm successfully represented Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in a lawsuit against the City of Lenexa, Kansas, which was prohibiting the Church’s use of its property to operate a temporary homeless shelter. As part of the resolution, which allowed the temporary shelter to operate, the City also updated its zoning code to reflect the Church’s right to do so.
About Dalton + Tomich
Established in 2010, Dalton + Tomich PLC is the nation’s leader in protecting the religious property rights of faith communities and is comprised of religious liberty, land use, denominational trust law, and business law attorneys. Learn more about our services at https://www.daltontomich.com/.