Written by Don Byrd
Via Religion Clause, a settlement has been reached in a religious discrimination lawsuit brought against the City of Bayonne, New Jersey for its refusal to approve a zoning permit to a proposed community center and mosque. The decision comes just months after the Justice Department initiated an investigation into the denial of the Bayonne Muslims’ application for a new facility to accommodate its growing was denied by the zoning board.
Federal law called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) explicitly protects against local governments using zoning laws and procedures to bar religious exercise unless it is necessary to achieve a compelling government interest. In the face of that high standard, city officials in this case were encouraged by their attorneys to reach an agreement. The Jersey Journal has more:
The city, facing the lawsuit and an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, moved quickly to settle the case filed by the plaintiffs….
“Our lawyers came back and said ‘Listen, it would almost behoove you to settle this case and not take it to trial unless you’re prepared to pay millions of dollars,'” said Mayor Jimmy Davis. “‘And have your taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars.'”
The city agreed to pay $400,000 and allow the group to move forward with its plans to construct a mosque and community center.
To place that amount in perspective, a settlement of more than $3 million was required to end a similar lawsuit in New Jersey’s Bernard Township after years of legal battles and a court ruling that a permit denial was unlawful.
For more on RLUIPA, see the BJC’s resource page.