Last week the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied an action pursuant to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) challenging a local law that resulted in a religious school being denied the right to install specific lighting and a sound system for its baseball field. In Marianist Province of the United States; St. John Vianney High School, Inc. v. City of Kirkwood, the Court held that the local regulations prohibiting spillage of light and sound, beyond certain levels, into the adjacent neighborhood did not violate RLUIPA.
The high school, which provides religious teachings, has a sports program with a football stadium that contains lighting and a sound system. The baseball stadium did not contain lighting or a sound system. The local public high school likewise has both football and baseball fields, with the football field having lighting and a sound system and the baseball field lacking both. In 2012 the City adopted local regulations that limited such systems so as to avoid disturbances cause by light spillage and loud sounds into adjacent neighborhoods.
“Vianney began the process of installing lights on its baseball field in late 2014. In 2015, contractors told the school that no lighting configuration could both comply with the lighting regulations and be bright enough to play baseball safely at night. Vianney therefore applied for a variance from the regulations. Kirkwood’s city planner told Vianney it did not need a variance, mistakenly thinking the baseball field already had lights. In October 2015, Vianney submitted a site plan for its improvements to the baseball field, which Kirkwood approved. Vianney then installed the lights at a cost in excess of $235,000. In January 2016, Vianney also installed an updated sound system on its baseball field.