fed.  District Court in CT Rules Meriden, CT’s Zoning Regulations Discriminatory

fed. District Court in CT Rules Meriden, CT’s Zoning Regulations Discriminatory

This post was originally published on the RLUIPA Defense blog by Evan Seeman, Esq. from Robinson & Cole, and reposted with permission.

The district court has ruled that the City of Meriden, Connecticut (City) discriminated against Omar Islamic Center Inc. following the City’s rejection of the Islamic Center’s request to move its mosque to another location. The Islamic Center (Center) expanded on its former location – a 1,200-square-foot space above a pizzeria in a neighboring town – and was unable to accommodate the members of the congregation, the number of students interested in Quran and Islamic Studies classes, and the requirement that men and women be separated for prayer and for ablution before prayer. The Center found a new site for its mosque at 999 Research Parkway, in the City’s M4 Planned Industrial Area. However, the application for a special permit was rejected. In a cross-motion for summary decision, the court held that the City’s zoning ordinance violated the US Constitution’s Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clause by treating secular uses as equals better than religious ones.

While the case is pending, the City changed its zoning regulations in an effort to dispute the religious group’s claims. The court sided with the City that the amendment makes the declarative relief requested by the Islamic Center – a declaration that the zoning regulations appear discriminatory – because the declarative relief applies only prospectively. However, the court ruled that the amendment to the regulations does not dispute the Islamic Center’s claims for compensation. The court concluded that the Islamic Center is entitled to damages incurred as a result of the city’s discriminatory regulations. It later stated that City zoning regulations were discriminatory in that they allowed hotels, motels, convention centers, theaters, various types of shops, stores, and service establishments (bakeries, restaurants, and theaters), as well as institutions, the public, and municipalities. building to operate as a right in the county, but requires places of worship to obtain special permits to do so.

The city, however, won over a state law Connecticut Religious Freedom Act (CFRA) claim. Since building a synagogue is not a religious activity under the CFRA, the court ruled in favor of the City. Finally, the court dismissed the summary judgment on all RLUIPA claims because there was a factual dispute over whether the Islamic Center had sufficient property interests under the Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act statute to proceed.

Decision in Omar Islamic Center Inc. v. Meriden City (D. Conn. 2022) available here.

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