WASHINGTON–The Justice Department said Thursday that it has filed a lawsuit against Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania, alleging that the township violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when it denied zoning approval to allow the Bensalem Masjid to build a mosque on three adjoining parcels of land in the township.
The complaint, filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleges that Bensalem Township’s denial of a variance imposed a substantial burden on the Bensalem Masjid’s religious exercise, treated the Bensalem Masjid less favorably than the township treats nonreligious assemblies and discriminated against the Bensalem Masjid on the basis of religion. According to allegations in the complaint, the township placed unreasonable limitations on religious assemblies through its land use regulations. The complaint also alleges that the township only permits places of worship in one district without a variance or rezoning by the township and that no properties were available in that district when the Bensalem Masjid acquired the property.
“Our Constitution protects the rights of religious communities to build places of worship free from unlawful interference and unnecessary barriers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to challenge unjustified local zoning actions around the country when they encroach upon this important civil right.”
RLUIPA contains multiple provisions prohibiting religious discrimination and protecting against unjustified burdens on religious exercise.