Empathy and Pragmatism in the Choice of Constitutional Norms for Religious Land Use Disputes

50 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2009 Last revised: 23 Dec 2013

Date Written: April 15, 2009


From the perspective of both religious entities and local governments, religious land use requests are best resolved quickly, locally and cooperatively. The traditional framework for addressing religious land use disputes, which the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) adopted, is ill-suited to those goals. Legally, disputes have long been framed as denials of the free exercise of religion – the broadest of all claims and the one requiring the most intrusive and subjective determinations about a particular religious group and its proposed use (what religion is, what a particular sect requires and how religion qua religion is affected by land use decisions). This article, part of a symposium at Albany Law School, proposes that the best method for analyzing land use decisions should be simple to apply, rely upon external and objective evidence to the greatest extent possible, create incentives for cooperation and resolution, reduce antagonism, and be deferential to both religious users and local government decisions. That can be better accomplished by flipping the traditional order of analysis adopted by RLUIPA. The article proposes legislative corrections to the definition of religious exercise, the order for analyzing disputes, and the appropriate evidentiary burdens and sources for resolving those questions. But it also proposes methods by which parties and courts can address religious land use questions more effectively in the absence of legislative change. In essence, the proposal proceeds by urging that we funnel land use requests and decisions first through a lens of Establishment clause norms; next, through a lens of Equal Protection norms; and then, and only then, would that neutral decision be examined through the lens of Free Exercise norms.

Keywords: Constitution, Religion, Land Use, Statutory reform, Establishment, Free Exercise, Religious Land Use

JEL Classification: K1

Suggested Citation

Reilly, Elizabeth A., Empathy and Pragmatism in the Choice of Constitutional Norms for Religious Land Use Disputes (April 15, 2009). Albany Government Law Review, Vol. 2, p. 555, 2009, U of Akron Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-10, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1416847

Elizabeth A. Reilly (Contact Author)

University of Akron - School of Law ( email )

150 University Ave.
Akron, OH 44325-2901
United States
330-972-6197 (Phone)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics