Federal Court Determines Boulder County, Colorado Violated Church's Civil Rights

Press Release April 1, 2009

Federal Court Affirms Jury's Verdict and Orders Boulder County to Permit Church Expansion

Denver. A federal court on Monday, March 30, 2009, directed Boulder County, Colorado to approve an expansion proposal by Rocky Mountain Christian Church of Niwot, Colorado. The ruling follows a trial last November in which a jury found that the county had violated the church's civil rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

The court's order directs the county to approve a zoning application filed by the church in 2004, seeking permission to expand its existing facilities which are used both by the church and by Rocky Mountain Christian Academy, a private school serving kindergarten through eighth grade students.

The jury found that in processing the church's application, the county had violated RLUIPA, a federal law, by treating the church less favorably than a similarly situated secular school, unreasonably limiting the ability of religious organizations to construct facilities within the county, and by imposing a substantial burden upon religious exercise by the church and its members.

The church was represented by Darrell Waas, Tom Macdonald and Kathryn Hopping of the Denver law firm of Otten, Johnson, Robinson, Neff & Ragonetti. Eric Rassbach, national litigation director for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty provided additional support.

According to Tom Macdonald, one of the important aspects of the federal court's decision is that it upholds the jury's verdict that Boulder County unreasonably limits all religious institutions within the County, forcing the County to change the way it treats all religious institutions. "This case demonstrates the need for RLUIPA to insure that religious assemblies and organizations are treated fairly in the land use process, and to protect them from land use laws that interfere with their free exercise of religion," said Macdonald.

RLUIPA was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 2000. "Congress heard massive amounts of testimony concerning the abuses suffered by religious organizations in the land use process, and those same abuses happened in this case," Macdonald said. "But state law allows only a limited review of most zoning decisions, and without RLUIPA, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to develop the evidence necessary to prove the case," he added.

For additional information contact Tom Macdonald (303-575-7520), Kathryn Hopping (303-575-7551) or Eric Rassbach (202-349-7214).