This week, churches in Florida and Texas were successful in their RLUIPA challenges to zoning denials.
In Church of Our Savior v. City of Jacksonville, (MD FL, Nov. 25, 2014), a church prevailed on its RLUIPA "as applied" equal terms challenge to Jacksonville, Florida's denial of a conditional use permit. A Florida federal district court found that the city granted a permit to a Montessori school to operate in a residentially zoned area, while denying it to the church, thereby creating less than equal treatment. The court went on to hold that the city had not shown that its two denials of conditional use permit applications were narrowly tailored to further compelling interests. The court held that the city's actions did not violate various other provisions of RLUIPA, including RLUIPA's "substantial burden" provisions. [Thanks to Dan Dalton for the lead.]
In Cornerstone Church By the Bay v. Town of Bayview, (SD TX, Nov. 24, 2014), a Texas federal district court a preliminary injunction agreed to by both parties that apparently envisions that the town will grant a special use variance to allow a congregation to operate a church and school on property it owns in an area zoned residential. The injunction prevents the town from enforcing the zoning ordinance or interfering with the church's operation while the church applies for the required permits. Liberty Institute reports on the court's action and provides further background and links to the pleadings.