DOJ Protects Places of Worship

Jun 13, 2018

Today, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the “Place to Worship Initiative,” which will focus on protecting the ability of houses of worship and other religious institutions to build, expand, buy, or rent facilities—as provided by the land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

RLUIPA is a federal law that protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations. Specifically, RLUIPA bars land use regulations that impose a substantial burden on religious exercise without a compelling justification, requires governments to treat houses of worship as favorably as nonreligious assemblies, and bars governments from discriminating among religions and from totally or unreasonably excluding houses of worship. 

Attorney General Sessions announced the Place to Worship Initiative today with a goal “to increase enforcement and public awareness of the land use provisions of RLUIPA.” In addition, the Place to Worship Initiative specifies “these provisions protect places of worship and other religious uses of property (including religious schools and religious social service providers) in the zoning and landmarking process from actions by local governments that: 1)Place unjustifiable burdens on religious exercise; 2)Treat religious assemblies and institutions worse than nonreligious assemblies and institutions; 3) Discriminate against religious assemblies or institutions based on religion or religious denomination; or 4) Totally or unreasonably exclude religious assemblies and institutions from a particular municipality or county.”

AG Sessions said, “The Constitution doesn't just protect freedom to worship in private—it protects the public exercise of religious belief, including where people worship together. Under the laws of this country, government cannot discriminate against people based on their religion--not in law enforcement, not in grant-making, not in hiring, and not in local zoning laws. President Trump is an unwavering defender of the right of free exercise, and under his leadership, the Department of Justice is standing up for the rights of all Americans. By raising awareness about our legal rights, the Place to Worship Initiative will help us bring more civil rights cases, win more cases, and prevent discrimination from happening in the first place,” said Sessions.

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