Last month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a statement of interest in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon explaining that a city’s decision to restrict a church’s distribution of meals to people who are homeless or hungry may have substantially burdened religious exercise under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
“Many churches and faith-based organizations across the country are on the front lines serving the critical needs of people experiencing hunger and homelessness,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “Discriminatory zoning restrictions that burden and limit religious organizations’ use of their land violate federal anti-discrimination laws. The Justice Department is committed to enforcing federal civil rights laws to ensure that all religious groups can freely exercise their religious beliefs.”
RLUIPA is a federal law that protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land-use regulations. In June 2018, the Justice Department announced its Place to Worship Initiative, which focuses on RLUIPA’s provisions that protect the rights of houses of worship and other religious institutions to worship on their land. As part of this initiative, the department has filed statements of interest in other RLUIPA cases involving faith-based services to people experiencing homelessness.