Second Circuit Rules RLUIPA Applies to Westchester Day School
In a significant decision regarding the application and interpretation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) the Second Circuit Court of Appeals today affirmed the Southern District (Connor, J.) in finding that the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Village of Mamaroneck violated RLUIPA by denying a special permit to the Westchester Day School (see our March 6, 2006 Blog on the earlier decision).
The School is a Jewish day school which has been in existence for 60 years and applied for a modification of its special permit in order to construct a new classroom building. In upholding the District Court the Second Circuit, which had avoided ruling on the constitutionality of RLUIPA previously, held that the statute is constitutional.
In response to the argument that RLUIPA violates the Establishment Clause the Court held: “RLUIPA cannot be said to advance religion simply by requiring that states not discriminate against or among religious institutions.” The Court further found that RLUIPA was properly applied under the authority of the Commerce Clause as the 44,000 square foot nine million dollar building proposed to be constructed by the School implicated interstate commerce. The Court noted that even if the impact upon interstate commerce is minimal it is sufficient to meet that jurisdictional element.
The Court also held that the Tenth Amendment is not violated as RLUIPA does not compel states to take a particular action and they may still enact their own land use regulations. Finally, the Court declined to reach the issue of the application of the Fourteenth Amendment or the State causes of action.
The full text of the decision can be found at: