4th Circuit decides test for zoning denial substantial burden under RLUIPA

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Bethel World Outreach Ministries of Montgomery County v. Montgomery County Council, (4th Cir., Jan. 31, 2013), the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals clarified the standard to be applied under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act to claims that a zoning denial imposed a “substantial burden” on a church’s free exercise of religion.  To show a substantial burden, a religious organization need not show that the challenged land use regulation pressured it to violate its beliefs. Instead, it need only show that the government regulation puts substantial pressure on it to modify its behavior. Also, the religious organization need not show that the land use regulation targeted it. Applying these tests, the court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the county on plaintiff’s substantial burden claim. However the court affirmed the dismissal of RLUIPA discrimination and unreasonable limitation claims, as well as of state and federal constitutional claims.