WASHINGTON, D.C.–The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Bernards Township, New Jersey, alleging that the township violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when it denied zoning approval to allow the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge to build a mosque on land it owns. The land is located in a zone that, at the time of the Islamic Society’s zoning request, permitted the construction of places of worship as a matter of right.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleges that Bernards Township’s denial of approval for the mosque discriminated against the Islamic Society based on its religion and the religion of its members; applied standards and procedures on the Islamic Society that it had not applied to other religious and non-religious assemblies in the past; and imposed a substantial burden on the Islamic Society’s religious exercise. The complaint also alleges that the township violated RLUIPA by amending its zoning ordinance in a manner that imposes unreasonable limitations on all religious assemblies.
“Sixteen years ago, Congress passed RLUIPA unanimously – with diverse religious and ideological support – because it recognized the fundamental right of all religious communities to build places of worship free from discrimination,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “No congregation or community should ever face unlawful barriers to practicing their religion and observing their faith.”
“As alleged in the complaint, Bernards Township has treated the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge differently than other houses of worship,” said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman of the District of New Jersey. “RLUIPA ensures that municipalities must treat religious land use applications like any other land use application. But here, township officials kept moving the goalposts by using ever-changing local requirements to effectively deny this religious community the same access as other faiths.”
RLUIPA contains multiple provisions prohibiting religious discrimination and protecting against unjustified burdens on religious exercise