After Hobby Lobby, Can A Corporation Bring a RLUIPA Claim?

July 4th, 2014

In addition discussing the scope of RFRA, Hobby Lobby also opined on RFRA’s little cousin, RLUIPA. Yes, one of my favorite statutory acronyms (I pronounce it for my class, REELYUPA), the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

The same RFRA analysis applies to RLUIPA:

We do not doubt that cost may be an important factor in the least-restrictive-means analysis, but both RFRA and its sister statute, RLUIPA, may in some circumstances require the Government to expend additional funds to accommodate citizens’ religious beliefs. Cf. §2000cc–3(c) (RLUIPA: “[T]his chapter may require a government to incur expenses in its own opera- tions to avoid imposing a substantial burden on religious exercise.”). HHS’s view that RFRA can never require the Government to spend even a small amount reflects a judgment about the importance of religious liberty that was not shared by the Congress that enacted that law.

In other words, now the government may be required to spend additional money to accommodate RLUIPA claims!

Justice Ginsburg countered that applying RLUIPA in this manner would disrupt land use.

FN 12 As earlier explained, see supra, at 10–11, RLUIPA’s amendment of the definition of “exercise of religion” does not bear the weight the Court places on it. Moreover, it is passing strange to attribute toRLUIPA any purpose to cover entities other than “religious assembl[ies] or institution[s].” 42 U. S. C. §2000cc(a)(1). But cf. ante, at 26. That law applies to land-use regulation. §2000cc(a)(1). To permit commercial enterprises to challenge zoning and other land-use regulations under RLUIPA would “dramatically expand the statute’s reach” and deeply intrude on local prerogatives, contrary to Congress’ intent. Brief for National League of Cities et al. as Amici Curiae 26.

LandUseBlog provides the discussion from the National League of Cities brief:

Interpreting RLUIPA to protect for-profit, secular corporations would dramatically expand the statute’s reach. For-profit corporations could avail themselves of RLUIPA’s broad definition of religious exercise to characterize secular commercial activity as religious in nature. They would have an incentive to do so to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The likely result would be a dramatic increase in the number of for-profit corporations claiming to engage in “religious exercise,” with a concomitant increased burden on local governments administering land use regulations.

The lingering question I have, is whether pro-profit corporations can now seek variances from land-use regulations under RLUIPA.

For-profit corporations, with ownership approval, support a wide variety of charitable causes, and it is not at all uncommon for such corporations to further humanitar- ian and other altruistic objectives. Many examples come readily to mind. So long as its owners agree, a for-profit corporation may take costly pollution-control and energy- conservation measures that go beyond what the law re- quires. A for-profit corporation that operates facilities in other countries may exceed the requirements of local law regarding working conditions and benefits. If for-profit corporations may pursue such worthy objectives, there is no apparent reason why they may not further religious objectives as well.

There are many for-profit corporations that meet these conditions. The argument would go something like this: a land-use regulation substantially burdens the owners’ religious exercise, and there are no more narrowly tailored means (in the example of a denial of a building permit). Stay tuned.