February 28, 2012
Infranca on a New Framework for Interpreting RLUIPA
John J. Infranca (Research Fellow, NYU Furman Center) has posted Institutional Free Exercise, Charitable Purposes, and Religious Land Use: A New Framework for Interpreting RLUIPA. The abstract:
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) protects religious landowners from the imposition, through a land use regulation, of a substantial burden on religious exercise, absent a compelling interest. For purposes of RLUIPA, a religious landowner may be a person, or, as is more likely, an assembly or institution. This Article contends that courts and commentators have failed to consider the implications of the institutional identity of the vast majority of land use claimants under RLUIPA. As a result, courts frequently focus inappropriately on the substantial burden claims of individual adherents, rather than institutional claimants. The concept of institutional free exercise, as articulated in case law and legal scholarship, provides a framework for distinguishing between the religious exercise and substantial burdens of religious institutions and individual adherents and can aid in clarifying substantial burden doctrine. In addition, the treatment of religious and non-profit institutions in comparable land use contexts, particularly hardship claims under landmark laws, can help shape the evaluation of institutional substantial burden claims.
I propose that courts should distinguish between the substantial burden claims of “existing institutions,” those that have made use of a particular property for a period of time and seek to alter or expand their use, and “new institutions,” those seeking a parcel of land for their first location or seeking to obtain and use a new parcel of land. Existing institutions should receive protection akin to that provided by courts to existing uses under the “natural expansion doctrine.” Given their bonds with a specific location and community, certain land use restrictions will impose a substantial burden on their institutional religious exercise. In contrast, new institutions cannot claim the same degree of burden when denied the use of a particular parcel and their claims are adequately protected by other provisions of RLUIPA. Both new and existing institutions may have claims when the land use process itself, rather than the simple denial of a desired use, imposes a substantial burden, but those claims should be addressed through RLUIPA’s other provisions.
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