Church Can Move Ahead With RLUIPA Challenges To Zoning Refusal

In Hunt Valley Baptist Church, Inc. v. Baltimore County, Maryland, (D MD, Oct. 17, 2017), a Maryland federal district court held that a Baptist church can proceed with challenges under RLUIPA as well as with Free Exercise and Equal Protection challenges to the county's refusal to grant it a special exception under its zoning laws to allow construction of a place of worship and related facilities. The court said in part:

... [T]he Church has stated a substantial burden claim under 42 U.S.C. §2000cc(a)(1) because it has plausibly alleged that it had a reasonable expectation that it could build a house of worship on the Property if it satisfied the conditions. Moreover, the Church alleges that it complied with all of the objective standards under BCZR § 502.1 for the grant of a special exception. ....

HVBC has adequately alleged that it was treated less favorably than other religious denominations, and that the rejection of its application for a special exception ―was substantially motivated by hostility and animus toward the Church and its religious character, practices and denomination.