Programs & Services

Legal Defense Fund Top 25: Case 13

Greater Bible Way Temple v City of Jackson

478 Mich 373 (2007)

Issue: RLUIPA – rezoning request

The Greater Bible Way Temple of Jackson wanted to build an apartment complex across the street from its church on property that it owned in Jackson. The property consisted of eight lots and was zoned single-family residential. The Greater Bible Way Temple petitioned the city to change the zoning of the property to multiple-family residential so that it could construct an apartment complex. The city denied the rezoning request.

The Greater Bible Way Temple sued, claiming that the city’s zoning decision was a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). RLUIPA is a federal statute which bars the imposition of land use regulations in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on a person’s right to exercise his/her religion unless the government can show that the regulation is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. RLUIPA has been held to apply when a substantial burden has been imposed in the implementation of land use regulation under which the government is permitted to make an individualized assessment of the proposed uses for the property involved. The Greater Bible Way Temple argued that RLUIPA applied on the basis that the city’s refusal to rezone was an individualized assessment.

Why did the LDF get involved?
The case put all municipalities with zoning power at risk of violating RLUIPA whenever a religious assembly requested rezoning for a proposed use of the land.

What action did the LDF take?
Filed an amicus brief with the Michigan Supreme Court

What was the outcome?
In a very decisive victory for the city, the Michigan Supreme Court held that the city’s response to the rezoning request was not an “individualized assessment” for purposes of an action under RLUIPA. The Court also ruled that even if RLUIPA applied, building an apartment complex did not constitute a “religious exercise.” And, further, even if it did, the Court held that the city’s refusal to rezone did not constitute a substantial burden on that religious exercise. The Court held that there did not appear to be any less restrictive means of furthering the governmental interest. In a final blow to the church’s claims, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari to an appeal from the Michigan Supreme Court.

Who prepared the amicus brief?
William J. Danhof
(Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C.)
Bree Popp Woodruff
(Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C.)

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