Diverse Christian and Jewish Organizations Join Forces to Defend Federal Law Protecting Houses of Worship in Zoning Discrimination

Apr 19, 2004

Orange County, FL – A diverse group of organizations and public interest law firms have joined forces to file a joint amicus brief with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to defend the federal law known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). In addition to Liberty Counsel, the other groups include the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty.

The brief was prepared by the New York law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and was filed in support of Rabbi Joseph Konikov. Konikov received zoning citations from officials in Orange County, Florida. Konikov’s alleged violation arose out of weekly prayer and fellowship meetings he conducted in his own home. After Konikov filed suit, claiming that the zoning restrictions violated RLUIPA, the County defended its actions by claiming that RLUIPA is unconstitutional. Rabbi Konikov was unsuccessful in his challenge to the zoning laws in federal court, and the County was unsuccessful in having RLUIPA declared unconstitutional. The case has now moved to the federal appeals court where the same matters will be argued.

The joint amicus brief argues that RLUIPA is constitutional, because it merely codifies existing Supreme Court precedent under the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause, which prohibits targeted religious discrimination, and the Equal Protection Clause, which also prohibits unequal treatment between similarly situated religious and secular entities.

Liberty Counsel successfully prosecuted the case of Open Homes Fellowship against Orange County, Florida. In that case, the same zoning officials tried to shut down the Church that has operated on its own property without incident for the past 10 years. Zoning officials sought to evict the church from its own property under the premise that the area was no longer zoned for churches. Liberty Counsel filed suit, claiming that the actions of the zoning officials violated RLUIPA and several constitutional provisions, including Equal Protection. The same federal court ruled a few weeks ago in favor of Open Homes Fellowship on the basis that the unequal treatment between the Church, as compared to secular uses, violated the Equal Protection Clause.

Staver concluded, “Although Christians and Jews cannot agree on upon certain core issues, all agree that houses of worship should receive fair treatment. Groups from every end of the political and religious spectrum have joined together to support a common goal, namely that discrimination against houses of worship must end.”