NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

When Churches Move in: There Goes the Neighborhood

January 24, 2003

Many local zoning ordinances have become instruments for sharply restricting -- or even excluding altogether -- churches, synagogues and mosques. Officials of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty say city officials jealously guard their zoning prerogatives and often avoid setting aside valuable urban land for churches and other places of worship.

Noting the trend, Congress in 2000 passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which requires that local zoning laws treat these types of land use on equal terms with others and sets a high standard for judicial review of ordinances that burden the free exercise of religion.

  • Municipal officials oppose the law since it places limits on their zoning powers.
  • Other opponents include the National League of Cities, the American Planning Association and the International Municipal Lawyers Association.
  • A constitutional challenge to the law's land use provisions has reached the federal appeals court level in a Chicago case.
  • An association of Chicago-area churches is complaining that the city's zoning laws now make it all but impossible to put a new church in a residential neighborhood anywhere in the city.

Opponents of the law have been shut out of federal courts so far.

Source: Patrick Korten (Becket Fund for Religious Liberty), Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required),,SB1043198026699953184-search,00.html


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