Do cities have the right to restrict the number of churches?

Monday, June 4, 2007

Cities have the right to zone specific areas for religious purposes, but they do not have the right to restrict the number of churches or religious institutions within their boundaries. Under RLUIPA, religious institutions are given some protection against zoning laws. Though the act does not completely exempt churches from zoning laws, officials must have a compelling interest in restricting a church or other religious institution from being built in a specific area.

Some fear that allowing an overabundance of religious institutions in a city will damage the economy because religious organizations are exempt from property taxes. Chris Hoene, a research manager for the National League of Cities, said some cities had become inventive in devising ways to collect money from churches. For example, some cities have begun to tax religious organizations’ profit-generating enterprises, including publishing and gift-shop sales.