Rocky Mountain Christian Church v. Boulder County
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In 2004, Rocky Mountain Christian Church, a non-denominational church and school in Niwot, Colorado (Boulder County), applied for the routine permits needed to expand its sanctuary and school buildings to accommodate its growing ministries.
In a classic case of discriminatory zoning, the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners rejected the Church’s application, despite allowing a secular school just a mile away to do exactly what the church wanted to do. This result left the Church to conduct classes in the middle of the hallway. The Church sued, and the Becket Fund stepped in as counsel.
The Becket Fund argued that the permit rejection not only that the Church was being treated unequally, but that the County’s actions substantially burdened the ability of the church to function and made it that much harder for other churches and houses of worship to locate in the County. (The County had also told a local synagogue it could have only 100 seats because the county did not want any more “mega churches.”)
After a multi-week jury trial in Denver federal district court, a federal jury ruled in the Church’s favor on all three of its RLUIPA claims. The County then appealed to the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, where its appeal was rejected. Stubbornly insisting on discriminating against the Church, the County appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court finally put an end to it all by refusing to hear the case, leaving intact the Tenth Circuit’s decision that Boulder County had unfairly discriminated against the church in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). A lesson that overly zealous and anti-religious zoning boards should take to heart.