Zoning Permit Denied for Worship Center

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Commercial Use of Part of Religious High School Not Protected By RLUIPA

In New Life Worship Center v. Town of Smithfield Zoning Board of Review, 2010 R.I. Super. LEXIS 101 (RI Super. Ct., July 7, 2010), a Rhode Island trial court upheld the decision of a town zoning board to bar use of space in a high school operated by New Life Worship Center, a religious organization, for use as a commercial fitness center and dance studio. The court rejected New Life’s claims under RLUIPA and Rhode Island’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act that denial of a special use permit improperly created a substantial burden on the organization’s exercise of religion. The court said in part:

The inability of New Life to operate the fitness center and dance studio as a commercial business to generate funds to support the parish and the building of the high school does not pose any significant pressure on the members of New Life. The members of the church are not being asked to conform their behavior in practicing their religion, nor are the religious activities of the church being compromised…. [T]he denial of the special use permit to protect the students of the high school from the regular entry into the building by members of the general public is a compelling governmental interest. The Zoning Board is not denying New Life the opportunity to practice ancillary activities on the property, but rather disallowing open access to the high school building in fear of the potential danger to the students.


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