Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
Ever heard of it? Myself has not, that is until today when I discovered that the US government is suing the Maui Planning Commission. It seems that a rural Maui congregation wanted to build a church but was denied a permit by the land board, and subsequently was able to get the DOJ to file a suit under the act.
The United States sued Maui County in support of Hale O Kaula after the church filed a religious discrimination case against the county.

The church had requested use of farm land in Pukalani for a worship center, but the planning commission denied the permit, agreeing with neighbors who claimed it would lead to increased traffic and noise, added burden to county services and a deterioration of the rural atmosphere.

The church refused to argue a complete case in a contested-case appeal. Instead, it accused the hearing officer of bias, then filed its suit based on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a relatively new law enacted by Congress to give churches an advantage in zoning battles.
This not very well known act was signed into law in September 2000, by President Clinton, in the waning days if his term, designed to give religious groups protection from discrimination against their freedom of religious exercise, the act reads:
No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or institution--
(A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
The argument against this act is that it creates special rights for religious groups that non-religious groups don't get. When any organization, religious or not, is permitted to bypass basic regulations on things like traffic, noise, and safety, that strikes Myself as wrong. By the looks of all the various advocacy groups involved here, this one is going to go on and up the legal system for awhile.

No comments: