OIA Legal Center Wins Important Civil Rights Case

By Dave Hunnicutt,
Oregonians In Action Legal Center

The Oregonians In Action Legal Center scored a significant legal victory on Monday when the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals rejected a Jackson County decision prohibiting Scott Young and Robin James from establishing a church on their rural property in Jackson County. The Board ruled that OAR 660-033-0120 cannot be used to prohibit the siting of churches on most land zoned for exclusive farm use (the vast majority of rural land in Oregon is zoned for exclusive farm use, whether it has ever been farmed or not).

Representing Dr. Young and Ms. James, the Legal Center argued that LCDC’s rule treated churches and other religious institutions on less than equal terms with secular uses such as golf courses and living history museums. By discriminating against religious uses of property, the rule violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), a federal law that requires state agencies and local governments to treat religious uses on equal terms with secular uses.

LUBA agreed, holding that LCDC cannot discriminate between churches and non-religious uses. Because LCDC’s rule did just that, LUBA held that the rule violated RLUIPA, and that Jackson County would not be required to apply the rule to Dr. Young and Ms. James’ application for a church on their property.

“This is a significant civil rights and land use win for Oregon property owners,” said Ross Day, attorney for the Legal Center and the applicants. “Today’s win marks the first time for many years that a LCDC rule has been invalidated. We are proud to stand up for property owners who want the freedom to use their land for religious or secular purposes, and are pleased that LUBA will not countenance discrimination by LCDC.”

Since RLUIPA was first adopted, the Legal Center has represented churches of different denominations and faiths in RLUIPA challenges. We will continue to defend the civil rights of Oregonians in the future and will work hard to ensure that every provision of the Bill of Rights is enforced, not just those that are “popular” with the left or right.

Dave Hunnicutt