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Noel Sterett Argues RLUIPA Case Before Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on Halloween

On Wednesday, October 31, 2018, I spent my Halloween exactly how every attorney would like to spend it:  arguing an important case in front of a panel of three of the most distinguished federal judges in the country. The Honorable Judges Easterbrook, Flaum, and Brennan of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard my oral argument in the Church of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ v. City of Markham, IL.

This case was filed after the Markham City Council, on August 21, 2013, denied the Church a conditional use permit despite the fact that the Church 1) had already received occupancy approval for assemblies up the forty-five people, 2) had been worshipping at the property for ten years, 3) had improved its sanctuary at the direction of City inspectors, and 4) was willing to comply with whatever off-street parking restrictions the City sought to impose. While the City officials said they were concerned about whether the congregation of about 30 people had enough off-street parking, the Council rejected the Church’s simple request for time to comply with whatever off-street parking restrictions the City Council wanted to impose.

The suit challenges the City’s zoning scheme and zoning denial for unreasonably limiting religious assemblies, treating religious assemblies less favorably than nonreligious assemblies, and for substantially burdening the Church’s religious exercise without a compelling governmental interest–all violations of the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000cc et seq. The Seventh Circuit previously held in World Outreach Conference Center v. City of Chicago that off-street parking is a very minor issue that should be dealt with through less restrictive ways than shutting a religious organization down.

With oral argument complete, the panel of judges will now decide the appeal and issue a written ruling.

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