What Constitutes a ‘Substantial Burden’ Under RLUIPA?

Zoning Practice — October 2010

By Lora Lucero


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The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) cautions local governments not to "substantially burden" a religious land-use applicant's right to free exercise, but provides little guidance about what actions might constitute a substantial burden. Congress failed to define "substantial burden."

The religious land-use applicant has the initial burden of demonstrating that a land-use decision or regulation is a "substantial burden," but the local government then has an opportunity to explain what compelling governmental interest exists and how the local government used the least restrictive means. Monetary judgments and settlements can be astronomical and should be a cautionary note for local governments.

This issue of Zoning Practice takes a look at recent RLUIPA cases with an eye toward drawing conclusions about what types of zoning requirements generally pass the substantial burden test.


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Date Published
Oct. 1, 2010
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American Planning Association

About the Author

Lora Lucero