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Urban Lawyer





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Imagine a large church located in a multi-family residential zoning district, where commercial uses are not permitted and religious uses are permitted by special use permit. The church applies for a special use permit to open a coffee shop, which would operate throughout the week during normal business hours and would supplement and support the church's other ministries. At the hearing on the permit application, many neighbors object. They fear increased traffic, visual blight, and safety hazards for their children. The city denies the permit. The church files an action against the city, alleging that the city has substantially burdened its religious exercise in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA").'

This type of conflict presents a real problem to religious institutions and to the communities in which they worship and minister. Neither the church nor the community is being unreasonable in this hypothetical. The church does not consider itself a business; it does not operate for profit, and the coffee shop serves the church's mission of ministry. On the other hand, the coffee shop might cause some of the disruptions that the neighbors fear. The prohibition against commercial uses in the district was designed to avoid just those disruptions. The fracas appears intractable. RLUIPA mandates a particular resolution to this conflict, but not everyone finds that resolution satisfactory.

Despite this controversy, courts charged with enforcing RLUIPA have taken a modest view of the statute. This article will argue that, despite the vigorous disagreement among scholars, courts have been fairly consistent in their constructions and have settled upon interpretations that avoid, by and large, confronting any constitutional or jurisprudential infirmities in the statute.

Recommended Citation

Adam J. MacLeod, A Non-Fatal Collision: Interpreting RLUIPA Where Religious Land Uses and Community Interests Meet, 42 Urb. Law. 41 (2010).



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