WHAT THE BISHOP SAID: Count 9-Violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act of 2000. Substantial Burden on Religious Exercise
"Defendants, under color of state law, have deprived and continue to deprive the RCB of its right to the free exercise of religion - as secured by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act - by imposing and implementing a land use regulation that imposes a substantial burden on the RCB's religious exercise. Defendants' actions were purposely taken with deliberate indifference to the RCB's constitutional and legal rights."
WHAT THE CITY SAID: "... A RLUIPA plaintiff “bears the burden of persuasion” on whether the challenged laws, or Springfield’s “application of those laws” to plaintiff “substantially burdens its exercise of religion.” Since the OLOH Historic District Ordinance does not impose a “substantial burden” on “religious exercise” plaintiff cannot carry its RLUIPA burden of proof.
... Unlike traditional zoning the Historic District Act and the OLOH Ordinance strive to preserve from unlawful alteration the existing features of property…
… In an attempt to invoke RLUIPA, plaintiff describes the process it generally follows when selling its property to a third part:
…an agreement must be reached between the Bishop and the purchaser that any religious symbols may not be desecrated or put to a sordid use. If such an accommodation cannot be reached, all religious symbols are removed from the interior and exterior building. This would involve the removal of all exterior Christian crosses and stained glass windows depicting religious symbols or scenes. Where it is either impossible or impractical to remove religious symbols from the building exterior (a frieze or carvings of sacred scripture) such symbols are covered with concrete or other suitable material to prevent desecration. In some instances, in order to make certain that religious symbols or expressions are not desecrated, such items must be properly destroyed.
Nothing in the OLOH Ordinance prevents plaintiff from applying to the Springfield Historical Commission for a certificate to conduct these types of activities. The historical designation of the OLOH exterior architectural features does not transform the sale of the closed OLOH property, which was formerly used as a place of worship, into any form of “religious exercise” under RLUIPA. Plaintiff’s title to the OLOH property, or even its incidental use for religious purposes, would not convert plaintiff’s secular plan for the property, selling it, into a religious exercise protected by RLUIPA. In this regard RLUIPA’s legislative history is enlightening:The right to assemble for worship is at the very core of the free exercise of religion...
The right to sell, lease, or otherwise dispose of space which is no longer needed or used for religious exercises is not at the core of the free exercise of religious; it is not even on its periphery. Disposition of unneeded property is common commercial secular activity without any religious significance. RLIUPA does not protect such secular activities even when they are conducted by religious institutions...
…Plaintiff complains that the mere enactment of the Historic District Ordinance creates ... a “substantial burden" under RLUIPA. Contrary to the plaintiff’s contentions, the Ordinance is not a substantial burden on plaintiff’s exercise of religion. The creation of the OLOH Historic District did not impose a significantly great restriction or onus on any exercise of plaintiff’s religion. It did not force plaintiff to choose between following the precepts of the Catholic religion and ownership of the OLOH Property. It did not force plaintiff to abandon the precepts of the Catholic religion or forfeit title to the OLOH property. Creation of the OLOH Historic District did not put pressure on plaintiff to modify his religious behavior or violate his religious beliefs. The ordinance merely submits the plaintiff to the same restrictions that any other landowner in a local historic district must fact. The plaintiff is not entitled to special government treatment that would violate the Establishment Clause.
Plaintiff speculates that, at some time in the future, it could face “delay, expense and uncertainly” from the mere filing for a certificate with the Springfield Historic Commission. This minor responsibility is a normal incident of property ownership in a historic district; it is not substantial under RLUIPA…
Plaintiff’s brief cites that the provision of fines from $10 to $500 dollars under section thirteen of the Historic District Act is evidence of a “substantial burden”. However, there is nothing in the Historic Ordinance or state statute that singles out anyone for special burdens on the basis of religious callings. It appears that plaintiff is simply averse to complying with the ordinance’s requirements…
WHAT THE JUDGE SAID: "Subsection (a) of RLUIPA reads as follows: "No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including religious assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or institution (A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."
......Because there is no dispute that the Ordinance imposes a “land use regulation,” the only remaining issue under this provision is whether “historic district” status creates a “substantial burden” on Plaintiff’s free exercise of religion. This is often the most contentious part of the RLUIPA analysis; RLUIPA does not define the phrase “substantial burden.” However, RLUIPA’s legislative history clarifies that a substantial burden “must be established ‘by reference to Supreme Court jurisprudence’ under the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.” ... The Supreme Court “made clear in other contexts that the ‘substantial burden’ hurdle is high and that the issue is intensely fact-specific.”...
Here, it is unnecessary to decide what constitutes a “substantial burden” because the burden imposed by complying with the Historic Districts Act is, on the undisputed facts of record, de minimis.
Plaintiff alleges that filing for a certificate of exemption will result in “delay, uncertainty and expense,” ...but Plaintiff fails to offer any evidence to substantiate that claim......Plaintiff asserts that “[t]he application process is not an insignificant one,” noting that the process requires the submission of “plans, elevations, specifications, material and other information.” ...These allegations are vague and conclusory and are insufficient to demonstrate a substantial burden...
The court’s “substantial burden” analysis makes understandable the requirement that plaintiffs file “one meaningful application” with a municipal body before filing suit. ... (“[T]he filing of one meaningful application will ordinarily be a necessary, although not alone sufficient, precondition for invoking the futility exception.”). If Plaintiff had presented one application, then the record would contain some concrete evidence of the burden imposed. Here, there is no evidence even of discussions. In these circumstances the court is obliged to conclude that no sufficient evidence of burden has been offered...
...In sum, Plaintiff has not shown that the administrative burden thrust upon it by virtue of its property’s inclusion within a historic district was anything more than an inconvenience. Because this claim falls far short of the standard ... Defendant’s motion will be allowed as to Count Nine.
WHAT THE BISHOP SAID: Count 10-Violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act of 2000. Unreasonable Limitation
"Defendants, under color of state law, have deprived and continue to deprive the RCB of its right to the free exercise of religion - as secured by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act - by imposing and implementing a land use regulation that unreasonably limits religious expression within a jurisdiction. Defendants' actions were purposely taken with deliberate indifference to the RCB's constitutional and legal rights."
WHAT THE CITY SAID: "Plaintiff argues that RLUIPA’s exclusions and limits provisions “are not limited to cases of total exclusion of a religious practice from a jurisdiction. They may exist where a city acts arbitrarily or discriminatorily or where it simply deprives churches of reasonable opportunities to practice their religion.” That proposition has no application in this case.
First, it is undisputed that the OLOH Historic District Ordinance does not totally exclude the Catholic religion from Springfield. It was the plaintiff, not Springfield, which closed the OLOH church and transferred its assets elsewhere. Second, the exclusions and limits provisions in RLUIPA do not expressly address religious practices. It deals specifically with land use regulations which unreasonably limit “religions assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction. In this case there is absolutely no evidence of any kind that the OLOH Ordinance unreasonably limits any religion or religious assemblies, institution, or structures within Springfield. Indeed the undisputed facts of the case are that after plaintiff closed the “our Lady of Hope Church… the Parish was merged with St. Mary’s Parish, East Springfield, under a new name, St. Mary Mother of Hope Parish.” Thus, the …unreasonable exclusions and limits provisions in RLUIPA do not apply in this case."
WHAT THE JUDGE SAID: "Plaintiff also brings a cause of action under subsection (b)(3)(B) of RLUIPA, which states that “[n]o government shall impose or implement a land use regulation that . . . unreasonably limits religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.”
Plaintiff offers no extended argument regarding subsection (b)(3)(B) in its Memorandum, (Dkt. No. 15, Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. at 32.), and for good reason: nothing in the Ordinance in any way “limits religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.” Thus, the provision is clearly inapplicable to these facts, and Defendants’ motion will be allowed as to Count Ten."
WHAT THE BISHOP SAID: Count 11-Violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act. "By their actions, the defendants have, by its coercive and intimidating actions in interfering with and regulating the internal religious affairs and resources of the RCB, violated the RCB's rights to freedom of religion, conscience, assembly, speech and expression, and the unlawful establishment of religion, under the Constitutions of the United States and Massachusetts. Defendants' actions were purposely taken with deliberate indifference to the RCB's constitutional and legal rights."
WHAT THE CITY SAID: "The City is not a person under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA). Massachusetts courts have indicated that a municipality is not a “person” within the terms of the MCRA and, as such, cannot be sued under the statute. . . . that claim must be dismissed in its entirely and Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on such claims . . ."
WHAT THE JUDGE SAID: "Count Eleven asserts a violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, §11I. Because “a municipality is not a ‘person’ covered by the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act,” see Howcroft v. City of Peabody, 51 Mass. App. Ct. 573, 591-92 (2001), and because all claims against the Individual Defendants are dismissed, Defendants’ motion will be allowed as to Count Eleven."
WHAT THE BISHOP SAID: Count 12-Declaratory Judgment G.L.c.231A
"The RCB, for the reasons alleged, submits that the court should declare the defendant's actions in approving, enacting and enforcing the Our Lady of Hope Historic District Ordinance are unlawful and contrary to the Constitutions of the United States and Massachusetts, and other provisions of federal and state law."
WHAT THE CITY SAID: n/a
WHAT THE JUDGE SAID: "Count Twelve does not state a cause of action but rather contains a prayer for relief based on the Massachusetts Declaratory Judgment Act. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231(A). Thus, Defendants’ motion will be allowed as to Count Twelve."
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