Justice Department targets Virginia county, alleging violating religious land use law

By Mark Iandolo | Dec 16, 2016

ROANOKE, Va. (Legal Newsline) — The U.S. Justice Department announced a lawsuit Dec. 12 against Culpeper County, Virginia, alleging violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) by denying a sewage permit application to the Islamic Center of Culpeper (ICC). The denial effectively stopped the ICC from constructing a small mosque on land it purchased in the county.


“The Constitution and federal law specifically protect the freedom of religious communities to establish houses of worship,” said principal deputy assistant attorney general Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to work tirelessly to protect every person’s right to assemble for religious exercise.”


According to the complaint, the Virginia county imposed a substantial burden on the Muslim congregation’s exercise of religion. The county required the application because the soil on the property could not support a septic system. Culpeper allegedly denied the application despite never having denied an application in the 25 other cases it has considered since 1992.


“Religious liberty is a fundamental right in our country and this case seeks to uphold that right,” said U.S. attorney John P. Fishwick Jr. of the Western District of Virginia. "We will continue to work with the experienced lawyers with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to protect the residents of the Western District of Virginia from unlawful discrimination.”

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