Friday, December 7, 2007

Third Circuit RLUIPA/Eminent Domain Case

A divided Third Circuit panel recently decided Lighthouse Institute for Evangelism v. City of Long Branch, a RLUIPA case with a redevelopment/eminent domain twist.  The New Jersey Eminent Domain Blog has a recap of the case.  An excerpt:

In its precedent setting 96-page opinion, the Third Circuit ruled 2-1 in favor of the City of Long Branch against Reverend Kevin Brown and the Lighthouse Institute for Evangelism in their attempt to establish a church at 162 Broadway within the Broadway Corridor Redevelopment area. However, the court remanded the case to Judge William Walls in the U.S. District Court for further findings on the plaintiff's challenge to the C-1 ordinance, the zoning for the subject property prior to the adoption of the redevelopment ordinance and plan, under RLUIPA's Equal Terms provision. The court was unanimous that the C-1 ordinance violated RLUIPA. This will entitle the plaintiffs to damages, counsel fees, and costs. . . .

The majority opinion, written by senior Judge Jane Roth, affirms the entry of summary judgment by Judge William Walls of the U.S. District Court. The dissent, filed by Judge Kent A. Jordan, disagreed with the majority regarding the redevelopment plan ordinance. Judge Jordan said that both ordinances failed to treat religious and non-religious assemblies on equal terms and, therefore, violate the very purpose for which the RLUIPA statute was enacted.

Judge Jordan noted that both ordinances, as interpreted by Long Branch,  prohibit religious use categorically. Judge Jordan reasoned that, if the majority reading of RLUIPA were correct, local governments could effectively render RLUIPA meaningless. Both the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division argued as amicus in support of Reverend Brown and the Lighthouse Mission. This decision is at odds with other decisions regarding RLUIPA in other circuit courts and may well end up before the United States Supreme Court.

The location of houses of worship, temples, mosques, and evangelical congregations is an issue that comes up frequently in New Jersey. Protracted battles in Rockaway Township ensued over the site selection by Dr. David Ireland, pastor of the 5000-member Christ Church. That church, a predominantly African American evangelical congregation, sought to move from its Montclair location to the former Agilent site in Rockaway. The relocation of the church was vigorously contested by a group of local residents. In Wayne, an Albanian mosque pursued litigation against the township of Wayne because the planning board delayed the plaintiff’s land use application.

Ben Barros

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It is important to note the panel found in favor of us that the Commercial zone violated our civil rights and rluipa. True they held, the majority that is, that the plans did not.

Posted by: Rev. Kevin Brown | Dec 10, 2007 9:29:03 AM

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