LAWSUIT - the federal "Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000" (RLUIPA)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The city's Hearing Examiner ruled that Blanchet's proposal violated the city's Land Use Code and rejected the permit.
The Archdiocese and Blanchet then sued the city for costs and damages and to force the city to issue the permit.  They alleged that the city's Land Use Code violated the federal "Religious Institutions and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000" (RLUIPA).  They alleged that RLUIPA requires religious institutions to be treated the same as public institutions; that because Seattle has several public lighted stadiums jointly used by Seattle Parks and Schools, Blanchet's private stadium should have the same privilege without the same obligation to serve the public.
The federal district court agreed and ruled in the Archdiocese's and school's favor.
A number of legal authorities, both locally and nationally, believe the decision was in error and extends the reach of RLUIPA beyond prior precedent.  They argue that the decision likely would be overturned upon appeal.
Those legal authorities argue that the intent of RLUIPA was to prevent cities from singling out churches and religious institutions and treating them differently than comparable non-religious institutions.  That is not what the city has done.  The city has recognized the long-accepted differentiation, both in Seattle and elsewhere, between public uses and facilities and private uses and facilities

  1. Public facilities are under the control of elected officials, accountable to the public.  They decide on the location, nature, and operation of public facilities to best serve the public;  they are charged with weighing the benefit to the public versus other interests.  Private facilities are under no such obligation or constraint.
  2. Public facilities serve the public's interest and are open to the public.  Private facilities are under no such constraint.

They argue that the city rightfully treats public and private facilities differently - and further - that in conformance to RLUIPA, the city's code treats private religious facilities and private non-religious facilities the same.
As of late July 2014, we await the Cty Attorney's and City Council's decision whether to appeal.