08/01/2006: Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hands down resounding RLUIPA victory
In a much-anticipated case involving the right of a religious institution to obtain a land use permit in order to build a place of worship, the Court of Appeals decided on August 1, 2006 that a county cannot deny a CUP to a Sikh organization if that denial would "impose a significantly great restriction or onus upon" its religious exercise. The Court found that this particular denial would in fact do so, based upon its findings that:
(1) The County's broad reasons given for its tandem denials could easily apply to all future applications by Guru Nanak; and (2) that Guru Nanak readily agreed to every mitigation measure suggested by the Planning Division, but the County, without explanation, found such cooperation insufficient.
As Director of Litigation for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Mr. Storzer drafted its amicus brief supporting the Sikh Society. Several of the arguments proposed in the brief were adopted by the Court of Appeals, including the proposition that RLUIPA makes explicit certain protections already inherent in the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment (including the legal requirement that a denial of a discretionary land use permit must survive strict scrutiny judicial review), and that the denial of a land use permit may be substantially burdensome on religious exercise, even though the initial requirement of such a permit is not.
Guru Nank Sikh Society of Yuba City v. County of Sutter, No. 03-17343 (Aug. 1, 2006)