Courtroom interior_newWritten by Don Byrd

Citing religious liberty protections under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the Department of Justice filed suit this week against Culpepper County, Virginia, for refusing to allow a necessary permit for the construction of the Islamic Center of Culpepper. RLUIPA prohibits local governments from substantially burdening religious exercise through zoning decisions unless it is necessary to achieve a compelling government interest.

Here, the DOJ claims, similar applications have almost always been granted, leaving no sufficient justification for the permit denial. 

Here is an excerpt from the DOJ press release:

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, alleges that the county imposed a substantial burden on the Muslim congregation’s exercise of religion and discriminated against the ICC based on religion when it refused to grant a “pump and haul” permit to allow the ICC to transport sewage from the ICC’s property to a point of disposal.  The county had told the ICC that such a permit was necessary because its soil, like much soil in the area, could not support a septic system.  The complaint alleges that since 1992, the county has considered 26 applications and never denied a pump and haul permit to a commercial or religious use prior to the ICC.

You can read the complaint here. Among other things, it reveals that “[m]uch of the [constituent] opposition contained comments that disparaged Muslims and made references to terrorism and the 9/11 attacks.’

For more on RLUIPA, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s resource page on the law.