How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Justice Department settles with Lomita over mosque expansion dispute

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The federal Justice Department has settled with the City of Lomita, resolving allegations that the city violated a 2000 religous land use act when it denied permission to a local Islamic center to expand and build a new mosque on its existing property.

The case stems from an incident in March of 2010, when the Lomita City Council denied plans by the Islamic Center of South Bay to consolidate a series of older buildings on its property into a new two-story structure off Pacific Coast Highway. Opponents to the plan expressed worry about traffic and other potential problems, although the city had not identified these issues when conducting its review.

The order announced today made clear that "the City shall not impose or implement any land use regulations in a manner that, within the meaning of RLUIPA, imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the City can demonstrate that imposition of that burden furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling interest."

RLUPIA stands for the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. It prohibits land use decisions that discriminate based upon on religion. 

The settlement incorporates parts of a conditional agreement beween the center and the city. Lomita will allow the center another application to complete the project.  The city has also agreed to training for city staff on the requirements of the religious land use law, and to report periodically to the Justice Department. 

The settlement reached last month between the Islamic center and the City of Lomita requires the city to process the new application promptly and to waive application fees. If the new application is denied again, the center's lawsuit may resume.

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