Written by Don Byrd
The Justice Department has announced a settlement in lawsuits brought against Bensalem Township alleging religious discrimination under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) after denying an Islamic group’s request for a zoning variance to allow the construction of a mosque.
A DOJ press release has more:
“Federal law protects the rights of all religious communities to build places of worship free from discrimination,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This agreement ensures that all citizens of Bensalem Township may freely exercise this important civil right.”
As part of the agreement, the Bensalem Masjid will be permitted to use the three adjoining properties for the purpose of building a mosque. The Township has also agreed to review and amend its zoning ordinance to comply with the requirements of RLUIPA. Additionally, the Township has agreed that it will advise its officials and employees about the requirements of RLUIPA, among other remedial measures.
Without a sufficient worship space the group has been forced to meet in a fire hall, according to law360. The settlement, which a township official insisted was reached only because “high financial costs,” not religious discrimination, means the construction project can move ahead.
For more on RLUIPA, a federal law protecting against the use of zoning laws to needlessly burden religious exercise, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s RLUIPA resource page.