Federal Court Rules in Favor of the Justice Department in Lawsuit Against City of Troy, Michigan For Restrictions on Places of Worship and Treatment of Muslim Religious Group

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Detroit, MI – Late Friday, March 18, 2022, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Justice Department, finding that the City of Troy, Michigan violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). The judge found that Troy’s zoning practices treat places of worship worse than equivalent nonreligious assemblies. The judge also found that Troy’s zoning denial substantially burdened the religious exercise of a Muslim group seeking to establish the only permanent place of Islamic worship in the City of Troy. Accordingly, the judge entered an order enjoining Troy from enforcement of the discriminatory provisions of its zoning ordinance.
“I am very pleased that the Court recognized Troy’s unequal treatment of places of worship and the impact on Troy’s Muslim community,” said Dawn Ison, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. “My office always seeks to work cooperatively with local governments to resolve civil rights disputes. However, when that is not possible, we will not hesitate to prosecute those cases.”
The Justice Department originally filed suit in 2019, after Troy denied zoning approval to Adam Community Center (Adam), an organization of Muslims who live and work in Troy, to operate a place of worship. In 2018, after a nine-year search for a permanent location in Troy, Adam acquired a building in one of Troy’s commercial districts to use as a community center and place of worship. Troy’s zoning ordinance would allow a nonreligious place of assembly, such as a theater or banquet hall, to use the same building without further approval. But because of Troy’s zoning restrictions unique to places of worship, Adam had to seek Troy’s approval to operate in the building. On June 19, 2018, Troy’s zoning board denied Adam’s application. The Justice Department investigated and subsequently filed suit.
The judge’s opinion quoted from RLUIPA’s legislative history, noting that, “RLUIPA was enacted to protect assemblies like Adam from discrimination in zoning laws that ‘lurks behind such vague and universally applicable reasons as traffic, aesthetics, or ‘not consistent with the city’s land use plan.’’” The opinion also noted that, “Adam has searched for a suitable property for many years and purchased the Property at issue here at great cost …”, and that Troy had “…no compelling governmental interest in prohibiting Adam, a religious place of assembly, from operating from the Property.”
This case was litigated by Assistant United States Attorneys Shannon Ackenhausen and Susan DeClercq of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan as well as trial attorneys from the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section.
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.
The Civil Rights Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan was established in 2010 with the mission of prioritizing federal civil rights enforcement. For more information on the Office’s civil rights efforts, including a copy of the court’s opinion and order, please visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-edmi/programs/civil-rights.
Individuals who believe they have been subjected to discrimination or experienced a civil rights violation can submit a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office by email at usamie.civilrights@usdoj.gov or by phone at (313) 226-9151. Complaints can also be submitted to the Civil Rights Division through its complaint portal.