William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal
The Substantial Burden of Municipal Zoning: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act As a Means to Consistent Protection for Church-Sponsored Homeless Shelters and Soup Kitchens
Despite the increase in poverty and homelessness in the United States, many municipalities are attempting to use zoning regulations to limit the spread of church-sponsored programs that minister to the poor. Although the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) suggests that courts should find churchsponsored programs exempt from the burdens of municipal zoning, recent decisions in federal courts demonstrate that church-sponsored homeless shelters and soup kitchens will receive the same inconsistent protection they received under traditional Free Exercise Clause analysis. This Note argues that enforcement of zoning regulations places a substantial burden on church-sponsored programs that minister to the poor, and that municipalities may often fail to provide adequate justification for their regulations under RFRA. Consequently, religious plaintiffs should receive exemptions from municipal zoning regulations. Nevertheless, this Note contends that municipalities retain sufficient control over church-sponsored homeless shelters and soup kitchens through the use of reasonable safety restrictions and common law public nuisance actions.