Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Teaching RLUIPA in Property Class

Ben has been kind enough to invite me to guest blog about my experiences teaching RLUIPA (the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000) as part of my 1L Property course here at Nebraska. I am delighted to do so, because every year the RLUIPA unit is one of the highlights of my Property class (both for me and, so I am told, for many of my students).

RLUIPA (42 U.S.C. sects. 2000cc et seq.) (link) is surely one of the most important developments in the law of property and land use in recent years. Signed into law by President Clinton on September 22, 2000, RLUIPA is a federal civil rights law that protects religious land uses from discrimination and substantial burdens imposed by restrictive land use regulations.

RLUIPA was needed because churches, religious ministries, and other religious land users often find themselves unpopular with local residents, businesses, tax collectors, and (thus with) local government. The problems are particularly severe in the case of churches that are considered “non-mainstream” because of racial, ethnic, or sectarian factors. In a recent law review article, Roman Storzer and Anthony Picarello observed that: “Churches in the United States are facing ever-increasing pressure by municipal authorities to limit their physical presence in America’s cities and towns. According to zoning boards, mayors, and city planners across the nation, churches may belong neither on Main Street nor in residential neighborhoods. And those whom neighbors deem a ‘cult’ may not belong at all.”

After sharing the Storzer & Picarello quote with my students in a handout I distribute to the class, I ask them: “Do churches belong in residential neighborhoods? In commercial districts? If your answer is 'no,' then where do churches and religious ministries belong in a typical town or city?”

I hope the authors of Property casebooks will someday cover RLUIPA in some reasonable fashion, but until they do I use a handout that contains the following:

1) An introductory note containing some background information about RLUIPA and some comments and questions;

2) A copy of the statute;and

3) Two RLUIPA cases: Murphy v. Zoning Com’n of Town of Milford, 148 F. Supp. 2d 173 (D. Conn. 2001) and (in this year’s handout) New Life Ministries v. Charter Township of Mt. Morris (E. D. Mich. 2006) (link)

The Beckett Fund has established a wonderful web site covering (link)--which contains information about cases, pleadings, briefs, and scholarship concerning RLUIPA. In particular, this site contains helpful discussion and links concerning the two cases I assign to my students (Murphy) (New Life Ministries scroll down).

I plan to discuss these two cases (as well as some others) in future posts. For now, suffice it to say that RLUIPA brings some interesting issues concerning the public law of property and statutory interpretation into the first year Property class. It also brings a nice real world component into the course, because churches and religious ministries are ubiquitous and increasingly find themselves at odds with local land use authorities. It is also a great "table turning" issue, because it converts a government-always-wins zoning dispute into a plaintiff-often-wins civil rights/religious liberty case.

I really enjoy teaching RLUIPA in Property!

Rick Duncan

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I was in Professor Duncan's section of property during the previous school year (08-09). I thought the section on RLUIPA was very interesting, especially compared with RAP, the RISC and other blackacre considerations. That being said, I disagree with including RLUIPA as part of the first year course.

As a result of spending a substantial portion of time at the end of first semester and then again during the second semester, we only spent a day and a half on landlord tenant law. It is improbable that I will encounter RLUIPA in practice, however, I certainly will encounter landlord tenant law in the college town where I plan to end up. Landlord-tenant is one of the few applicable things first year property offers and we only spent a day and a half on it.

RLUIPA is interesting law. The cases Prof. Duncan includes are great for discussion and he is certainly a fascinating professor. However, I really wish that he had not included it in the class. Though I got a B+ in his class, it was probably not fair to make the largest essay on the final an RLUIPA question (though to be fair it incorporated covenants).

Anyway, just some thoughts on RLUIPA as curriculum from a students perspective.

Posted by: NebraskaLawStudent | Jun 6, 2009 11:26:51 PM

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