In an interesting case from the Northern District of Illinois, a federal district court has ruled that there was sufficient proof of a substantial burden under the federal RLUIPA to send a church’s claim of religious discrimination to a jury.
In Liberty Temple Church v Town of Bolingbrook, 2012 WL 1230728 (N.D. Ill. 4/12/2012), the facts do seem somewhat egregious. First, when the church inquired about the possibility of renting not just at one location but at a second location as well, the owner of the property was skeptical that the local mayor would permit a church not only at that location, but anywhere in the town. Allegedly, the mayor made similar statements directly to members of the church itself.
In addition, at least at the second location, the church had already consulted be published documents constituting the town’s zoning regulations, and had determined that they were in an area zoned for religious land uses. However, when they apply for a permit, the town turn down the application based on its claimed that the maps were in effect erroneous.
The court relying on several Seventh Circuit decisions concluded:
Based on the Village's own published map and zoning ordinance, a jury could reasonably find that the church reasonably believed a SUP was not legally needed. Moreover, based upon Mayor Claar's representation on February 28, 2011 to Plaintiff's attorney, a jury could construe it as a definitive pre-emptive denial of any SUP Plaintiff might have filed. Therefore, Plaintiff was not obligated to go bang its head against a wall and apply for a permit it was told it would never get. In respect to the SUP, this case is almost a fact-for-fact parallel of the World Outreach case.The town’s motion for summary judgment was denied, and the case is going to a jury.
Remember, that under the Tennessee Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Tenn. Code Ann. §4-1-407, the standard for proving a substantial burden is significantly less than it is under the federal act. As a result, certainly the comments of the mayor alone would have doomed the town's case here in Tennessee.