By Jennifer Hawks
The Baptist Joint Committee joined a brief in the U.S. District Court for New Jersey asserting that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (known as RLUIPA) prohibits different municipal rules for building a mosque than for a church.
After receiving an application from the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge seeking to build a mosque on a site zoned for houses of worship, Bernards Township created several impediments before the necessary permits could be granted. After 39 hearings over four years and receiving numerous drawn and re-drawn plans, Bernards Township eventually denied the application. The Islamic Society filed suit asserting RLUIPA, First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment claims.
RLUIPA is a federal law that applies the familiar Religious Freedom Restoration Act standard (prohibiting the government from substantially burdening a person’s religious exercise except in situations to pursue a compelling government interest in the least restrictive means) to state and local governments in land use and zoning issues. This case demonstrates why RLUIPA was needed in 2000 and is still needed today. Minority religious groups often face heightened scrutiny when attempting to engage in the freedoms to exercise their religion and peaceably assemble.
The BJC joined the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, National Association of Evangelicals, Sikh Coalition and others in the brief in the case of Islamic Society of Basking Ridge v. Township of Bernards.
*Editor’s note: A previous version of this story did not include the complete name of the court case*