Teton County Land Development Code discriminates against smaller churches

This is an excerpt from the letter I have sent to the county commissioners.

Chapter three, section five subsection seven- Places of worship, located on page 34.

B. Special use standards

1. Special use standards; Minimum lot size for a place of worship shall be 5 acres.

2. Buildings must meet the height requirements for the Zoning District in which the place of worship is located.

The reason I find this very disturbing is that this is a clear infringement of the United States constitution bill of rights, Amendment 1. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

I can say with the utmost confidence that no church organization in our valley can afford five acre lots, even if one came available. Restrictions on buildings will hinder religious organizations so much that it very clearly will restrict citizens from practicing the faith of their choosing. This is going completely against the U.S constitution and is also in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). RLUIPA prohibits zoning and land marking laws that substantially burden the religious exercise of churches or other religious assemblies or institutions absent the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. This prohibition applies in any situation where: (i) the state or local government entity imposing the substantial burden receives federal funding; (ii) the substantial burden affects, or removal of the substantial burden would affect, interstate commerce; or (iii) the substantial burden arises from the state or local government’s formal or informal procedures for making individualized assessments of a property’s uses.

The Department of Justice can investigate alleged RLUIPA violations and bring a lawsuit to enforce the statute. The Department can obtain injunctive, but not monetary, relief. Individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions can also bring a lawsuit in federal or state court to enforce RLUIPA.

This zoning code means federal lawsuits for Teton County and discriminates against places of worship that cannot afford a five acre lot in our sparse land market. I ask the county commissioners to listen to the public, and urgently change this land development code before it is passed.

Kaden Moulton