The Zoning of Religious Institutions in the Wake of RLUIPA

Zoning Practice — September 2008

By Adam Kingsley, Thomas Smith


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Since it was signed into law in 2000, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) has forced municipalities to rethink the way they plan for and zone religious institutions, as well as the manner in which they review discretionary applications regarding the siting or expansion of religious facilities. Court decisions have provided some guidance as to what is and what is not acceptable under the law, but these cases are often fact-specific and leave many questions unanswered.

Courts recognize that even with RLUIPA in place religious institutions are not entitled to locate wherever they want or build whatever they want, and an outcome where a religious institution is denied its preferred location or site plan may be perfectly legal. However, when a municipality denies the requested zoning relief, that decision is subject to serious scrutiny and must be justified by a well-supported planning rationale.

This issue of Zoning Practice explains why sound planning has become the best defense to a RLUIPA challenge and discusses what constitutes sound planning in the context of RLUIPA.


Page Count
Date Published
Sept. 1, 2008
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Authors

Adam Kingsley

Thomas Smith