WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, the Department of Justice announced the “Place to Worship Initiative,” which will “focus on protecting the ability of houses of worship and other religious institutions to build, expand, buy, or rent facilities—as provided by the land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).”
This initiative will benefit churches like Redemption Community Church – a Maryland church that is currently in a legal battle with the City of Laurel. The church purchased property in downtown Laurel with plans to open a non-profit coffee shop as a way to connect with the community and to host a Sunday church service. Soon after the city of Laurel implemented zoning laws that excluded non-profits and required churches to apply for a “special exception” – both an expensive and slow process. The church complied with the new laws, but was still ordered by the city to stop using their property to hold worship services, or they would be penalized $250 daily.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins released the following statement:
“We applaud the Department of Justice and President Trump for erecting another bulwark of protection around America's First Freedom – religious freedom. This is an administration that is fully committed to defending the freedom of all Americans to believe and live according to those beliefs.
“Over the years, local governments have discriminated against houses of worship through various zoning restrictions, limits on operational hours and even congregation size limits. In 2000, Congress approved RLUIPA by unanimous consent in an effort to protect houses of worship from such unjustified governmental abuse.
“Nearly 18 years later, we continue to see examples of local governments whether through ignorance or hostility are skirting the law. Today the DOJ is putting teeth in the enforcement of a law designed by Congress to prevent government from trampling the free exercise of religion.
“Family Research Council will communicate to more than 25,000 churches that they now have a Department of Justice that stands ready to stand up for their statutory and constitutional religious freedoms,” concluded Perkins.