LawFuel.com- Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that the United States has settled a federal civil rights lawsuit against the CITY OF PORT JERVIS (“PORT JERVIS”) in Orange County, New York. Under the agreed-upon Consent Decree, PORT JERVIS will repeal a local law enacted in December 2015 that bans places of worship from two of the City’s central business and commercial zoning districts. The Consent Decree also provides that the lawsuit can be reinstated if Port Jervis fails to amend its zoning laws to comply with federal law prohibiting discrimination and unreasonable impositions on religious freedom by January 23, 2017. The Consent Decree was entered on November 23, 2016, by U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Karas.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “With this lawsuit and consent decree requiring the City of Port Jervis to repeal or amend a local law that banned places of worship in two of its central business districts, we help to ensure free religious exercise in the city.”
According to the Complaint, filed in federal court in White Plains on November 21, 2016:
PORT JERVIS violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) by passing a local law in December 2015 that banned the use of land for purposes of places of worship in two of Port Jervis’s main commercial and business zones, the Central Business District and the Service Commercial District. Prior to the passage of the local law, use of land for these purposes was permitted as of right in these districts.
While City officials claimed that the local law was justified by concerns relating to parking, commercial development, and liquor licensing, PORT JERVIS continues to permit nonreligious uses in these areas that will have similar effects. Accordingly, the Complaint charged that PORT JERVIS treated religious assemblies on unequal terms with comparable nonreligious assemblies or institutions, in violation of RLUIPA.
Moreover, PORT JERVIS substantially burdened the religious exercise of the Goodwill Evangelical Presbyterian Church (the “Church”), which had sought to establish a place of worship in PORT JERVIS’s Central Business District. After the Church was in contract to purchase property in that district and had received assurances from City officials that it could use the property as a branch of the Church, PORT JERVIS adopted the local law to ban places of worship in the zoning district. The local law precluded the Church from its intended use of the property for religious exercise and caused the Church to suffer delay and expense in establishing a permanent place of worship in the City. The Complaint charged that PORT JERVIS substantially burdened the Church’s religious exercise, also in violation of RLUIPA.
Pursuant to the Consent Decree entered on November 23, 2016, PORT JERVIS has until January 23, 2017, to repeal the local law banning places of worship from two of its central zoning districts. PORT JERVIS also has agreed not to treat religious assemblies or institutions on unequal terms with nonreligious assemblies or institutions, and not to implement any land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of any person, assembly, or institution. PORT JERVIS has further agreed to comply with certain notice, training, and recordkeeping requirements to ensure that City officials are knowledgeable about and comply with RLUIPA, and to allow the Government to monitor PORT JERVIS’s compliance.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Samuel Dolinger is in charge of the case.