The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas today announced an agreement with the City of Farmersville, Texas, to resolve allegations that the City violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when, in July 2017, it denied an application by the Islamic Association of Collin County (Islamic Association) to build a cemetery.
“There is no place in our community for religious discrimination,” said U.S. Attorney Joseph D. Brown. “Our office is committed to protecting religious freedom.”
“Federal law protects the rights of all religious communities to buy or rent land for religious purposes including places of worship, religious schools, charitable activities, and cemeteries without discrimination or the imposition of unwarranted burdens,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously enforce this important right.”
The settlement agreement resolves a lawsuit the United States filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. After the City denied the Islamic Association’s application to build a religious cemetery, the United States opened an investigation of the City’s actions in September 2017. In August 2018, the United States notified the City that it had concluded that the City had violated RLUIPA and intended to file suit, and offered the City an opportunity to negotiate a resolution. In September 2018, the City and the Islamic Association entered into a separate agreement allowing for the approval of the cemetery and in December 2018, the City approved the Islamic Association’s application to develop the land as a cemetery.
The United States’ complaint alleges that the City’s denial of the Islamic Association’s application to develop the property as a cemetery imposed a substantial burden on the Islamic Association’s religious exercise and discriminated against the Islamic Association on the basis of religion. The City denies the allegations. As part of the agreement, the City has agreed to provide training to its officials and employees about their obligations under RLUIPA and to notify the public about the City’s compliance with RLUIPA in its zoning and land use actions.
RLUIPA is a federal law that protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations. In June 2018, the Justice Department announced its Place to Worship Initiative, which focuses on RLUIPA’s provisions that protect the rights of houses of worship and other religious institutions to worship on their land. More information is available at www.justice.gov/crt/placetoworship.
In July 2018, the Department of Justice announced the formation of the Religious Liberty Task Force. The Task Force brings together Department components to coordinate their work on religious liberty litigation and policy, and to implement the Attorney General’s 2017 Religious Liberty Guidance.
Individuals who believe they have been subjected to discrimination in land use or zoning decisions may contact the Civil Rights Division Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at (800) 896-7743, or through the complaint portal on the Place to Worship Initiative website. More information about RLUIPA, including questions and answers about the law and other documents, may be found at http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/rluipaexplain.php.
This matter is being handled by Eastern District of Texas Assistant U.S. Attorney James Gillingham and Civil Chief Josh Russ.