NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Zoning Law Protecting Religious Groups Face Challenges

July 15, 2003

A federal law passed in 2000, known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIP), is becoming a point of controversy in otherwise quiet U.S. neighborhoods because it allows religious groups to bypass local zoning codes. In some areas local residents have united to attempt to stop construction of churches, synagogues and other houses of worship.

Opponents of the law say it tramples the rights of existing landowners and homeowners. It "allows any priest, mullah or Wiccan to set up a church next door to your house," warns a Los Angeles resident who is fighting religious encroachment in the pricey section know as Hancock Park.

The law bars governments from enforcing zoning codes that impose "a substantial burden on religious assembly" unless a "compelling governmental interest" can be cited.

  • Religious groups from Wyoming to Connecticut are invoking the law to build everything from soup kitchens to daycare centers -- often in the heart of residential areas.
  • In Austin, Texas, a Baptist church sued the municipality for violating the RLUIP law after it rejected the church's plan to build a five-story parking lot on a residential street.
  • County officials report that one man outside Pittsburgh started the Church of Universal Love and Music after he wasn't allowed to hold outdoor music concerts.

Principals in the Hancock Park controversy have raised $500,000 for a campaign to overturn the law, and are founding an organization that plans to fund lawsuits on behalf of like-minded homeowners across the country.

Source: Queena Sook Kim, "Should Churches Be Exempt from Zoning?" Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required),,SB105822002026572300-search,00.html


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