Thursday, August 4, 2011
Walnut, Justice Department Reach Settlement in RLUIPA Suit
By MARC B. HAEFELE, Staff Writer
The Justice Department yesterday announced resolution of a suit between the United States and the City of Walnut that could regularize the city’s dealings with religious land use issues in the future.
The settlement, which stemmed from the city’s refusal in 2008 to permit a Zen Buddhist center’s construction, must still be approved by a U.S. District judge. The action alleged that, in denying the Zen center the permit, Walnut had violated the U.S. Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.
Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division, noted that “[r]eligious freedom is among our most cherished rights, and our nation’s laws prohibit cities and towns from discriminating based on religion when they make zoning decisions…”
The government’s complaint alleged the East San Gabriel Valley city had not previously denied any religious construction going back to 1980. In 2008, it was argued, the city also approved a conditional use permit for a Catholic church larger than the Zen center. In 2003, the city had also built itself a civic center two blocks from the proposed site.
After being forbidden to build on its Walnut property, the Chung Tai Zen Center moved its planned construction to another site in Pomona.
The city has agreed as part of the settlement that it will henceforth not impose differential zoning or building requirements on other houses of worship. Walnut city leaders, managers and certain employees are to receive training in the application of RLUIPA.
The city is also expected to clarify the appeals process to future applicants for houses of worship, and report periodically to the Justice Department.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company