Breaking News

Department of Justice Marks 20th Anniversary of Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act with Comprehensive 20-Year Report

The Justice Department today marked the 20th Anniversary of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by releasing a comprehensive report detailing how RLUIPA has helped preserve the religious liberty rights of thousands of individuals and institutions. 

RLUIPA, which protects the rights to use land for religious purposes without discrimination or unduly burdensome regulation, and protects the religious exercise of persons confined to institutions, was signed into law by President Clinton 20 years ago today. The report recounts the history and purpose of RLUIPA, how it has been interpreted in the courts, and the Department of Justice’s enforcement efforts, which have protected the religious liberty of people of a wide range of faiths in a broad array of settings.

Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, stated: “For more than four centuries, religious people from all over the world have sought refuge here. Often, these people did so to escape persecution by monarchs, dictators, and other despots. Then, when our ancestors established the United States of America, the Founders adopted the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and thereby preserved in law the right of all people to exercise religion. Two decades ago, the Congress extended these protections when it passed RLUIPA. The Department of Justice is steadfastly committed to enforcing RLUIPA vigorously to protect the right of all people to practice their faith and worship together.”

Some key points in the report include:

  • The Department of Justice has opened 553 preliminary and full investigations under RLUIPA; filed 28 RLUIPA lawsuits; filed 53 amicus briefs and statements of interest in privately filed RLUIPA cases; and intervened in more than 65 cases to defend the constitutionality of RLUIPA.
  • Under the department’s Place to Worship Initiative, launched in June 2018, the department has filed double the number of RLUIPA cases and briefs, and 60% more full investigations, compared to the department’s RLUIPA filings in an average two-year period.
  • Filed cases and briefs that have protected the rights of a wide range of religious groups, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Native Americans, and others.
  • The department’s land use cases frequently involve the rights of minority faiths.  55% of the department’s court filings have involved Muslims and Jews. This is consistent with the legislative history of RLUIPA, where Congress found that minority faiths were disproportionately represented in zoning disputes.

The report is attached.  More information about the Place to Worship Initiative is available at www.justice.gov/crt/placetoworship. More information about the enforcement of the RLUIPA rights of prisoners and others confined to institutions is available at the Special Litigation Section RLUIPA page, https://www.justice.gov/crt/religious-land-use-and-institutionalized-persons-act-0.

In July 2018, the Department of Justice announced the formation of the Religious Liberty Task Force. The Task Force brings together department components to coordinate their work on religious liberty litigation and policy, and to implement the Attorney General’s 2017 Religious Liberty Guidance.

Individuals who believe they have been subjected to discrimination in land use or zoning decisions may contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Hotline at (855) 281-3339 or the Civil Rights Division Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at (800) 896-7743, or through the complaint portal on the Place to Worship Initiative website. More information about RLUIPA, including questions and answers about the law and other documents, may be found at http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/rluipaexplain.php.