In Bernards Township, it’s a mosque that local residents want to keep out.
In Jacksonville Beach, Fl., the fight was over an Anglican chapel.
The Sikhs fought in Sutter County, Ca., and it is an Orthodox congregation in Howell that has been at odds with township officials.
The first words of the First Amendment seem direct enough: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
But local communities can also make laws regulating where developments — including houses of worship and religious schools — can be located and how big they can be, and the fight over where religious organizations may plant roots goes on across the country every day.
Just as courts have room to determine if a religious group is substantially burdened, planning and zoning boards also have room for interpretation, said Gary T. Hall of McCarter & English in Newark.
“A lot of this stuff can be subjective, so there’s no one right answer,” he said.
When a proposed development is a permitted use on a property, that usually gives “a leg up” to the landowner, Hall said.
Still, “it’s usually not that difficult to come up with reasons” to deny an application, he said, adding that it’s not good enough to say, “We don’t like this or want this.”