In a significant legal development, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, in partnership with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, filed a statement of interest in the U.S. District Court supporting an Orthodox Jewish congregation.
This action stems from the congregation’s lawsuit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) against Millburn, New Jersey Township. The lawsuit, “Chai Center for Living Judaism v. Township of Millburn,” challenges the township’s denial of a construction application for a synagogue, alleging religious discrimination and burdensome land-use regulations that violate RLUIPA.
The U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger emphasized the importance of non-discriminatory worship practices, highlighting RLUIPA’s role in ensuring fair legal treatment by local authorities for all religious communities. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division underscored the significance of RLUIPA in preventing unjust barriers against religious groups and noted that zoning restrictions should not be utilized to unlawfully obstruct religious organizations, as this infringes upon both religious freedom and federal law.
This case underscores the ongoing challenges religious communities face in exercising their rights to worship and establishing places of worship in the face of local zoning laws. The DOJ’s involvement signifies a robust federal stance on protecting religious liberties under RLUIPA, which safeguards religious institutions from overly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations. This case highlights the importance of religious freedom in the United States and sets a precedent for how religious land use disputes might be handled in the future.