Barr v. City of Sinton, No. 06-0074 (Tex. Jun. 19, 2009)(Hecht) (zoning, regulating religious halfway
house out of existence)(Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA)(NIMBY dispute with religious
THE GIST: We conclude, based on the record before us, that Ordinance 1999-02, as
applied to Barr’s ministry, violates TRFRA. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the
court of appeals. Because the trial court did not reach the issues of appropriate
injunctive relief, actual damages, and attorney fees, we remand the case to the trial
court for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
PASTOR RICK BARR AND PHILEMON HOMES, INC. v. CITY OF SINTON; from San Patricio County; 13th
district (13-03-00727-CV, ___ SW3d ___, 11-23-05)
motion to take judicial notice granted
The Court reverses the court of appeals' judgment and remands the case to the trial court.
Justice Nathan Hecht delivered the opinion of the Court. [html version here; for pdf version click case style]
NEWS AND BLOG ITEMS ON THIS CASE:
Zoning Ordinance Violates Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TEXAS LAWYER 6/29/09)
("marks the first time the Supreme Court has interpreted the TFFRA, which the Texas Legislature enacted in
Barr v. City of Sinton (Tex. 2009)
Argued March 22, 2007
Justice Hecht delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA) provides that “a government agency may not
substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion [unless it] demonstrates that the application of the
burden to the person . . . is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest [and] is the least restrictive
means of furthering that interest.”1 TRFRA does not immunize religious conduct from government regulation; it
requires the government to tread carefully and lightly when its actions substantially burden religious exercise.
In this case, a city resident, as part of a religious ministry, offered men recently released from prison free
housing and religious instruction in two homes he owned. In response, the city passed a zoning ordinance that
not only precluded the use of the homes for that purpose but effectively banned the ministry from the city. The
trial court found that the city had not violated TRFRA, and the court of appeals affirmed.2 We reverse and
remand to the trial court for further proceedings.
In 1998, Pastor Richard Wayne Barr began a religious halfway house ministry through Philemon Restoration
Homes, Inc., a nonprofit corporation he directed. The purpose of the ministry was to offer housing, biblical
instruction, and counseling to low-level offenders released from prison on probation or parole in transition
back into the community. For the most part, men accepted by the ministry had been convicted of drug-related
crimes; the ministry would not accept men convicted of violent crimes or sex offenses. In application forms for
would-be residents, Philemon described its function as “[c]reating bridges to enable the Christian inmate to go
from prison to the local church through Biblical discipleship”. Applicants were asked to respond in writing to
several pages of questions inquiring about such things as family background, drug usage, mental health, and
religious faith. Applicants were also required to sign a “statement of faith” in basic Christian beliefs3 and to
agree to a long list of behavioral rules characterized as “biblical guidelines for Christian living”.4 The
guidelines emphasized to prospective residents that Philemon was “a biblical ministry, NOT a social service
agency”. Each morning began with group prayer and Bible study.
Barr lived and operated his ministry in the City of Sinton, a town 2.2 square miles in size with a population of
5,676 (2000 census), the county seat of San Patricio County, not far from Corpus Christi. Barr owned two
homes besides his residence, both of them within a block of the church he attended, Grace Christian
Fellowship, which appears to have been supportive of Barr’s ministry. Barr housed and taught Philemon
residents in those homes, which together could hold up to sixteen men at one time. Though the men were
unsupervised, neither Barr nor the city manager was aware of any complaint of disturbance. Barr’s
commitment to the ministry was personal; he himself is an ex-con.
When Barr began his ministry, the City imposed no zoning or other restrictions on his use of the homes. In
January 1999, Barr discussed his ministry with Sinton’s mayor, city manager, and police chief, and a few weeks
later he presented his ministry before the city council. In response to questions whether Philemon was in
compliance with state law, Barr researched the matter and concluded that it was.5 In April, the city council held
a public hearing at which a large number of people expressed both opposition to as well as support of Barr’s
ministry. A few days later, the city council passed Ordinance 1999-02, which added to the City Code a section
that provided as follows:
A correctional or rehabilitation facility may not be located in the City of Sinton within 1000 feet of a residential
area, a primary or secondary school, property designated as a public park or public recreation area by any
governmental authority, or a church, synagogue, or other place of worship.
For the purposes of this section distance is measured along the shortest straight line between the nearest
property line of the correctional or rehabilitation facility and the nearest property line of the residential area,
school, park, recreation area, or place of worship, as appropriate.
For the purposes of this section “Correctional or rehabilitation facility” means a residential facility that is not
operated by the federal government, the state of Texas, nor San Patricio County, and that is operated for the
purpose of housing persons who have been convicted of misdemeanors or felonies or children found to have
engaged in delinquent conduct, regardless of whether the persons are housed
(i) while serving a sentence of confinement following conviction of an offense;
(ii) as a condition of probation, parole, or mandatory supervision; or
(iii) within one (1) year after having been released from confinement in any penal institution.
For the purposes of this section “residential area” means
(i) any area designated as a residential zoning district by this ordinance, and
(ii) any area in which the principal permitted land use by this ordinance is for private residences.
The City Council finds the requirements of this section are reasonably necessary to preserve the public safety,
morals, and general welfare.
As the city manager later confirmed, Ordinance 1999-02 targeted Barr and Philemon.6 The halfway houses
they operated were unquestionably within 1,000 feet of a church; indeed, they were across the street from the
Grace Fellowship Church, which was helping to support the ministry. But the ordinance was broader, and was
intended to be. Because Sinton is small, it would be difficult for a halfway house to be located anywhere within
the city limits. The city manager later testified:
Q. Is there any property within the city limits of Sinton that you are aware of that would qualify not being
1000 feet from any church, school, park — right — or residential area?
A. I have not checked it out, but it would probably be minimal locations.
Q. In other words, probably pretty close to nonexistent?
Q. Would that be a fair statement?
A. A fair statement.
There was no evidence that any specific site within the city was available.7
Despite the ordinance, Barr continued to conduct his ministry as he had before. Though violations were
punishable by a civil fine of $500 per day, neither Barr nor Philemon was ever cited. By the summer of 2000,
Barr had taken in fifteen men altogether. Then in October 2000, the Sinton police chief complained to the
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles that Barr and Philemon were housing parolees in violation of a city
ordinance, and for awhile parole officials refused to approve the arrangement. Philemon residents went to live
with members of the Grace Fellowship Church.
In June 2001, Barr’s attorney notified the City by letter that Barr claimed Ordinance 1999-02 violated TRFRA.
8 The City did not respond, and in August, Barr and Philemon sued the City under TRFRA, seeking injunctive
relief, a declaratory judgment, monetary damages, and attorney fees.9 In October, state officials withdrew
objections to Philemon’s halfway house operation, and parolees were again permitted to stay in the homes.
But after the trial court denied Barr and Philemon’s request for a temporary injunction in January 2002,10 the
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles for the second time stopped approving parolees to live in Barr’s homes
and had the residents removed. Since then, Barr and Philemon have been unable to continue their ministry.
The parties agreed to a bifurcated trial to the bench, reserving the issues of damages and attorney fees
pending the court’s ruling on whether Ordinance 1999-02 violated the TRFRA. In November 2003, the court
rendered judgment for the City. The court found that Barr and Philemon had operated “a correctional or
rehabilitation facility” in violation of Ordinance 1999-02’s 1,000-foot restriction, and that the ordinance did not
violate TRFRA in any respect: that is, the ordinance did not substantially burden Barr’s and Philemon’s free
exercise of religion, it was in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest, and it was the least restrictive
means of furthering that interest.11 Given the court’s ruling, the issues of damages and attorney fees were
The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that Ordinance 1999-02 does not violate TRFRA because
there is nothing in the ordinance that precludes [Barr] from providing his religious ministry to parolees and
probationers, from providing instruction, counsel, and helpful assistance in other facilities in Sinton, or from
housing these persons outside the City and providing his religious ministry to them there.
* * *
Moreover, Texas courts have long applied zoning ordinances to church-operated schools and colleges,
supporting the conclusion that zoning ordinances do not substantially burden such auxiliary religious
We granted Barr and Philemon’s petition for review.13 Because petitioners’ arguments are identical, we refer
to petitioners collectively as “Barr”.14
In 1997, the United States Supreme Court in City of Boerne v. Flores15 recounted its 1990 decision in
Employment Division, Department of Human Resources v. Smith16 and Congress’s reaction to it. Smith had
held that under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,17 “neutral, generally applicable laws may
be applied to religious practices even when not supported by a compelling governmental interest.”18
Specifically, the Court held that a generally applicable Oregon statute criminalizing the use of peyote did not
violate the Free Exercise rights of members of the Native American Church who ingested the drug for
sacramental purposes.19 City of Boerne explained that in Smith, the Court had “declined to apply the
balancing test set forth in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963), under which we would have asked whether
Oregon’s prohibition substantially burdened a religious practice and, if it did, whether the burden was justified
by a compelling government interest.”20 Sherbert had held that under the Free Exercise Clause, a member of
the Seventh-day Adventist Church who refused to work on Saturday, the Sabbath Day of her faith, could not
be denied unemployment benefits because she was not “available for work” as required by generally
applicable state law.21 Smith also distinguished another case involving a generally applicable law, Wisconsin
v. Yoder,22 in which the Court “invalidated Wisconsin’s mandatory school-attendance law as applied to Amish
parents who refused on religious grounds to send their children to school. That case implicated not only the
right to free religious exercise but also the right of parents to control their children’s education.”23
Four Members of the Court in Smith contended that the majority’s decision “dramatically departs from well-
settled First Amendment jurisprudence . . . and is incompatible with our Nation's fundamental commitment to
individual religious liberty.”24 They were not alone in that view. The Court in City of Boerne acknowledged that
“[m]any criticized the Court’s reasoning [in Smith],” and this disagreement resulted in the passage of RFRA”25
— the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.26 While Congress could not, of course, alter Smith’s
reading of the First Amendment, it could provide more protection by statute. In enacting RFRA, Congress
found that “laws ‘neutral’ toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere
with religious exercise”,27 and that “governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without
compelling justification”.28 The purpose of RFRA, Congress declared, was “to restore the compelling interest
test as set forth in [Sherbert and Yoder] and to guarantee its application in all cases where free exercise of
religion is substantially burdened; and . . . to provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is
substantially burdened by government.”29 Thus, RFRA provides that “[g]overnment shall not substantially
burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability [unless it]
demonstrates that application of the burden to the person . . . is in furtherance of a compelling governmental
interest; and . . . is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”30
As originally enacted, RFRA applied to the States as well as the federal government,31 but City of Boerne
held that in extending RFRA to the States, Congress exceeded its enforcement authority under Section 5 of
the Fourteenth Amendment.32 In response, Congress amended RFRA to limit its application to the
governments of the United States, its territories and possessions, and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
33 But at the same time, Congress enacted the Religious Exercise in Land Use and by Institutionalized
Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA),34 which applied the RFRA standard to land use regulation.35 RLUIPA applies
not only to the federal government but to state and local governments when the activity is federally funded or
affects interstate commerce.36
States also reacted to Smith. Smith’s construction of the Free Exercise Clause does not preclude a state from
requiring strict scrutiny of infringements on religious freedom, either by statute or under the state constitution,
37 and many states have done just that, Texas among them.38 The Texas Legislature enacted TRFRA in
1999,39 which like RFRA provides in part, that government “may not substantially burden a person’s free
exercise of religion [unless it] demonstrates that the application of the burden to the person . . . is in
furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and . . . is the least restrictive means of furthering that
interest.”40 The Act states that “[t]he protection of religious freedom afforded by this chapter is in addition to
the protections provided under federal law and the constitutions of this state and the United States.”41
Because TRFRA, RFRA, and RLUIPA were all enacted in response to Smith and were animated in their
common history, language, and purpose by the same spirit of protection of religious freedom, we will consider
decisions applying the federal statutes germane in applying the Texas statute.42
At the outset, the City argues, and the court of appeals concluded, that TRFRA’s strict scrutiny does not
apply to zoning ordinances. The court of appeals reasoned simply that nothing prevented Barr from relocating
elsewhere in the City or moving outside.43 But ease of relocation goes to whether the burden of a zoning
ordinance on a person’s free exercise of religion is substantial, not to whether zoning ordinances are
categorically exempt from TRFRA. The court of appeals added that zoning laws have long been applied to
religious education facilities.44 But that generalization shows only that it is possible for zoning laws not to
substantially burden free religious exercise. The opposite is also possible. This Court, for example, has held
that zoning laws cannot be used to exclude churches from all residential districts in some circumstances.45 In
any event, not only is the court of appeals’ analysis flawed, it is contradicted by TRFRA’s express terms, which
require strict scrutiny of “any ordinance, rule, order, decision, practice, or other exercise of governmental
authority.”46 Zoning ordinances easily fall into this group.
Unlike the court of appeals, the City relies on TRFRA’s text, specifically, the first sentence of section 110.010,
which states: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, a municipality has no less authority to adopt
or apply laws and regulations concerning zoning, land use planning, traffic management, urban nuisance, or
historic preservation than the authority of the municipality that existed under the law as interpreted by the
federal courts before April 17, 1990” — the date the Supreme Court issued its decision in Smith. The statute
thus preserves the authority municipalities had under “the law” interpreted by the federal courts pre-Smith.
The only restriction on the governing law is that it come from pre-Smith federal case law. Guidance may be
drawn from cases involving constitutional limits on zoning and land-use ordinances as well as from cases
applying the Free Exercise Clause, or even the First Amendment generally, in other contexts. For example,
Sherbert involved unemployment laws, and Yoder involved compulsory school attendance laws; both involved
the Free Exercise Clause, while Yoder also involved parental rights; but each demonstrates the balancing of
interests that Smith eschewed and that the statutes enacted in response — RFRA, TRFRA, and RLUIPA — all
The City argues first that the impact of zoning on the free exercise of religion is never subject to strict
scrutiny. The Supreme Court has clearly refuted this argument. In Schad v. Borough of Mount Ephraim, the
Supreme Court wrote:
The power of local governments to zone and control land use is undoubtedly broad and its proper exercise is
an essential aspect of achieving a satisfactory quality of life in both urban and rural communities. But the
zoning power is not infinite and unchallengeable; it must be exercised within constitutional limits. . . .
* * *
[A]s is true of other ordinances, when a zoning law infringes upon a protected liberty, it must be narrowly drawn
and must further a sufficiently substantial government interest. . . . Mere legislative preferences or beliefs
respecting matters of public convenience may well support regulation directed at other personal activities, but
be insufficient to justify such as diminishes the exercise of rights so vital to the maintenance of democratic
institutions. And so, as cases arise, the delicate and difficult task falls upon the courts to weigh the
circumstances and to appraise the substantiality of the reasons advanced in support of the regulation of the
free enjoyment of First Amendment rights. . . . [T]he Court must not only assess the substantiality of the
governmental interests asserted but also determine whether those interests could be served by means that
would be less intrusive on activity protected by the First Amendment: [a municipality] may serve its legitimate
interests, but it must do so by narrowly drawn regulations designed to serve those interests without
unnecessarily interfering with First Amendment freedoms. . . . Precision of regulation must be the touchstone.
Schad held that a borough could not use zoning laws to prohibit all live entertainment, including live adult
entertainment, within its borders.48 Surely the free exercise of religion is entitled to no less protection than
In Sherbert, the Supreme Court held that denying unemployment benefits to someone because she would not
work on Saturday, a religious day for her, was a “substantial infringement” of her rights that could be justified
only by “some compelling state interest”.49 “It is basic”, the Court wrote, “that no showing merely of a rational
relationship to some colorable state interest would suffice; in this highly sensitive constitutional area, ‘(o)nly the
gravest abuses, endangering paramount interest, give occasion for permissible limitation’”.50 There is no
reason to require strict scrutiny of unemployment compensation laws but not zoning laws.
The City argues more narrowly that pre-Smith federal cases specifically involving conflicts between zoning
ordinances and the Free Exercise Clause do not require strict scrutiny when a zoning ordinance is facially
neutral with respect to religion and impacts free exercise only in its across-the-board application, even if the
impact is substantial. The City cites five cases, each of which involved the application of zoning laws to places
of worship: Christian Gospel Church, Inc. v. City and County of San Francisco;51 Messiah Baptist Church v.
County of Jefferson;52 Islamic Center of Mississippi, Inc. v. City of Starkville;53 Grosz v. City of Miami Beach;
54 and Lakewood, Ohio Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Inc. v. City of Lakewood.55 Islamic Center
appears to have applied a standard similar to that required by TRFRA, stating that zoning laws that infringe
upon First Amendment rights “must be narrowly drawn in furtherance of a substantial government interest”56
that could not be served “by a means less burdensome to the exercise of religion.”57 Although far less clear,
Grosz referred to a “principle that has emerged in free exercise doctrine, the ‘least restrictive means test,’”58
and “[a]nother principle” that “a showing of ‘compelling state interest’ on the government side will justify
inroads on religious liberty.”59 Two other cases, Christian Gospel Church60 and Lakewood Jehovah’s
Witnesses,61 required that the government have a “compelling interest” in zoning restrictions that impact free
religious exercise. In Messiah Baptist Church, the court found that zoning regulations had no significant impact
on the free exercise of religion and therefore did not state a standard.62 In sum, four of the five cases the City
cites contradict its contention that pre-Smith federal cases did not strictly scrutinize zoning ordinances that
impact free religious exercise.
None of the arguments made by the City or the court of appeals supports the assertion that zoning
ordinances are exempt from TRFRA. Accordingly, we turn to the Act’s application in this case.
Applying TRFRA to this case raises four questions, each succeeding question contingent on an affirmative
answer to the one preceding:
• Does the City’s Ordinance 1999-02 burden Barr’s “free exercise of religion” as defined by TRFRA?
• Is the burden substantial?
• Does the ordinance further a compelling governmental interest?
• Is the ordinance the least restrictive means of furthering that interest?
We consider these questions in the order presented. While we must accept the trial court’s fact findings
supported by the evidence, the ultimate answers determine the legal rights protected by the Act and are thus
matters of law.63
The City argues that Barr’s free exercise of religion is not involved because a halfway house need not be a
religious operation. But the fact that a halfway house can be secular does not mean that it cannot be religious.
TRFRA defines “free exercise of religion” as “an act or refusal to act that is substantially motivated by sincere
religious belief”, adding that “[i]n determining whether an act or refusal to act is substantially motivated by
sincere religious belief under this chapter, it is not necessary to determine that the act or refusal to act is
motivated by a central part or central requirement of the person’s sincere religious belief.”64 Not only is such a
determination unnecessary, it is impossible for the judiciary. As the Supreme Court stated in a part of Smith
unaffected by RFRA:
It is no more appropriate for judges to determine the “centrality” of religious beliefs before applying a
“compelling interest” test in the free exercise field, than it would be for them to determine the “importance” of
ideas before applying the “compelling interest” test in the free speech field. What principle of law or logic can
be brought to bear to contradict a believer’s assertion that a particular act is “central” to his personal faith?
Judging the centrality of different religious practices is akin to the unacceptable “business of evaluating the
relative merits of differing religious claims.” As we reaffirmed only last Term, “[i]t is not within the judicial ken to
question the centrality of particular beliefs or practices to a faith, or the validity of particular litigants’
interpretations of those creeds.” Hernandez v. Commissioner, 490 U.S. [680,] 699 . Repeatedly and in
many different contexts, we have warned that courts must not presume to determine the place of a particular
belief in a religion or the plausibility of a religious claim.65
The trial court appears to have been troubled that an operation which can be and often is conducted for
purely secular purposes could be entitled to increased protection from government regulation if conducted for
religious reasons. But TRFRA guarantees such protection. Just as a Bible study group and a book club are
not treated the same, neither are a halfway house operated for religious purposes and one that is not. Under
Smith, the Free Exercise Clause does not require strict scrutiny for religious activity affected by neutral laws of
general application,66 but TRFRA imposes the requirement by statute.
The City does not dispute that the purpose of Barr’s ministry was to provide convicts a biblically supported
transition to civic life. Applicants were required to sign a statement of faith, agree to abide by stated biblical
principles, and commit as a group to daily prayer and Bible study. They were specifically told that the Barr’s
halfway house was “a biblical ministry, NOT a social service agency”. Barr considered the halfway house a
religious ministry, and it appears to have been supported by his church. The record easily establishes that
Barr’s ministry was “substantially motivated by sincere religious belief” for purposes of the TRFRA.
TRFRA does not elaborate on what it means to “substantially burden” the right to free religious exercise, and
that particular phrase is not used elsewhere in Texas statutes, unlike the words “substantial” and
“substantially”, which are used thousands of times. So far as we have been able to find, however, they are
never defined. The same phrase is used in RFRA and RLUIPA, but it is not defined in those statutes, either.
Absent any special meaning, we use ordinary meanings in common parlance.67 Webster’s Third New
International Dictionary defines “substantial” in part as “material”, “not seeming or imaginary”, “real”, “true”,
“being of moment”, “important”.68 Thus defined, “substantial” has two basic components: real vs. merely
perceived, and significant vs. trivial. These limitations leave a broad range of things covered.
To determine whether a person’s free exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, some courts
have focused on the burden on the person’s religious beliefs rather than the burden on his conduct. Under
what have been referred to as the compulsion and centrality tests, the issue is whether the person’s conduct
that is being burdened is compelled by or central to his religion.69 The problems with these approaches are
the same as those in determining whether conduct is religious. It may require a court to do what it cannot do:
assess the demands of religion on its adherents and the importance of particular conduct to the religion. And it
is inconsistent with the statutory directive that religious conduct be determined without regard for whether the
actor’s motivation is “a central part or central requirement of the person’s sincere religious belief.”70 These
problems are avoided if the focus is on the degree to which a person’s religious conduct is curtailed and the
resulting impact on his religious expression. The burden must be measured, of course, from the person’s
perspective, not from the government’s. Thus, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, after
surveying decisions by other courts, recently held that under RLUIPA, “a government action or regulation
creates a ‘substantial burden’ on a religious exercise if it truly pressures the adherent to significantly modify his
religious behavior and significantly violate his religious beliefs.”71 Amici curiae suggest the following: “A person’
s religious exercise has been substantially burdened under the Texas RFRA when his ability to express
adherence to his faith through a particular religiously-motivated act has been meaningfully curtailed or he has
otherwise been truly pressured significantly to modify his conduct.”72 Like the Fifth Circuit, however, “we make
no effort to craft a bright-line rule” or one that will apply in every context.73 TRFRA, like its federal cousins,
“requires a case-by-case, fact-specific inquiry”.74
Ordinance 1999-02 prohibited Barr from operating his halfway house ministry in the two homes he owned
adjacent his supporting church, and the city manager testified that it was “a fair statement” that alternate
locations were “probably . . . minimal” and “possibly” “pretty close to nonexistent”. The court of appeals stated
that “there is nothing in the ordinance that precludes Barr from providing his religious ministry to parolees and
probationers, from providing instruction, counsel, and helpful assistance in other facilities in Sinton, or from
housing these persons outside the City and providing his religious ministry to them there.”75 But there is no
evidence of any alternate location in the City of Sinton where the ordinance would have allowed Barr’s ministry
to operate, or of possible locations outside the city. Moreover, while evidence of alternatives is certainly
relevant to the issue whether zoning restrictions substantially burden free religious exercise, evidence of some
possible alternative, irrespective of the difficulties presented, does not, standing alone, disprove substantial
burden.76 In a related context, the Supreme Court has observed that “one is not to have the exercise of his
liberty of expression in appropriate places abridged on the plea that it may be exercised in some other place.”
77 As a practical matter, the ordinance ended Barr’s ministry, as the City Council surely knew it would.78 We
therefore have no hesitation in concluding that Ordinance 1999-02 substantially burdened Barr’s ministry. The
trial court’s unexplained finding to the contrary has no support in the evidence.
The City argues that its zoning restrictions on locating Barr’s ministry inside city limits could not have been a
substantial burden because the City is so small that excluding the ministry from inside the city limits was
inconsequential. But size alone is not determinative. The Schad case involved the Borough of Mount Ephraim,
79 a municipality about half the size of Sinton in area, with roughly the same population at the times relevant to
that case and this one.80 The Supreme Court did not consider the small size of the municipality to be
important and specifically rejected the argument that the adult entertainment business at issue could simply
move elsewhere.81 Moreover, as we have noted, there is no evidence regarding alternative locations for Barr’
The City also argues that Barr could have continued his ministry as long as each person he desired to help
either owned his own home or was a guest in another’s home. The City points out that the residents in Barr’s
homes eventually moved in with members of Barr’s church. But of course, that occurred as the ministry came
to an end. There is no evidence that Barr could have continued his ministry one-on-one to probationers and
parolees scattered out in different homes. In any event, a burden on a person’s religious exercise is not
insubstantial simply because he could always choose to do something else.
The City argues that Barr’s ministry was not substantially burdened because he was never cited or charged
with a crime, but nothing in TRFRA suggests that either is necessary for a burden to be substantial. The City
contends that no requirement imposed on the operation of a correctional institution can substantially burden
religious exercise, pointing to statutes passed with TRFRA that create a rebuttable presumption that such
requirements meet strict scrutiny.82 But the presumption those statutes create is rebuttable, and in any event,
they do not apply to Barr’s halfway houses because Barr did not operate under contract with the government.
The City argues that its position finds support in the five pre-Smith federal cases it cites regarding the impact
of zoning laws on the location of worship facilities. While four of the cases found no substantial burden on
religious practice, they are readily distinguished. In two of the cases, relatively small groups in large cities — in
Grosz, an orthodox Jewish group of usually ten to twenty people in Miami Beach,83 and in Christian Gospel
Church a group of about fifty people in San Francisco84 — sought to meet in homes in areas zoned
residential, asserting that home-worship was important to their religious beliefs. In Grosz, churches were
permitted by zoning in half the city, including an area just four blocks from the home sought to be used.85 In
Christian Gospel Church, the group had been meeting in a hotel banquet room, and there were areas
throughout the city, including residential areas, where churches might meet.86 Two other cases involved
larger groups who sought to build facilities. In Lakewood, a Jehovah’s Witness congregation that had been
meeting in a commercial area wanted to relocate to a residential area.87 Although zoning in only about ten
percent of the city permitted churches, the court concluded that the congregation could easily find a location in
those areas or purchase a church building in a residential area.88 In Messiah Baptist Church, a church bought
80 acres in an area zoned for agricultural use, intending to construct a 12,000-square-foot facility, including a
worship area, administrative office, and a gymnasium, along with a 151-car parking lot and an amphitheater for
drive-in worshipers.89 The court concluded that the church’s religious practice was not unduly burdened
merely because it was denied such use of land that was inexpensive and attractive.90
The fifth case, Islamic Center, held that the use of zoning restrictions to exclude Muslims at Mississippi State
University from worshiping in a home in a residential area in Starkville, Mississippi, violated the Free Exercise
Clause.91 The court concluded that the zoning restrictions were impermissibly burdensome because they
“force[d] Muslims to worship in the least acceptable parts of the City or in the county outside the City's
boundaries”.92 The court rejected the city’s argument that the Muslims could simply go elsewhere:
And a city may not escape the constitutional protection afforded against its actions by protesting that those
who seek an activity it forbids may find it elsewhere. By making a mosque relatively inaccessible within the city
limits to Muslims who lack automobile transportation, the City burdens their exercise of their religion.
* * *
As the Supreme Court observed in Schad, the availability of other sites outside city limits does not permit a city
to forbid the exercise of a constitutionally protected right within its limits. “[One] is not to have the exercise of
his liberty of expression [and, we add, his freedom of religion] in appropriate places abridged on the plea that it
may be exercised in some other place.”93
Although the zoning ordinance did not foreclose all locations, the court determined “relatively impecunious
Muslim students” were left with “no practical alternatives for establishing a mosque in the city limits.”94
The City argues that the decision in Islamic Center was based on the use of zoning to discriminate against a
particular religion, something that it did not do in the present case. The City of Starkville had permitted a large
number of Christian churches in the same area from which the Muslim mosque was prohibited;95 indeed, a
Pentecostal church met right next door to the Muslims’ property.96 But these facts were pertinent to the city’s
justification of the zoning ordinance, not to whether ordinance substantially burdened the Muslim group. As the
court stated: “The City’s approval of applications for zoning exceptions by other churches suggests that it did
not treat all applicants alike. This undermines the City’s contention that the Board denied a zoning exception to
the Muslims solely for the purposes of traffic control and public safety.”97 Irrespective of the city’s possible
motivation, the burden on the Muslims’ use of their property for religious purposes was substantial.
All five of the cases on which the City relies illustrate that the existence and degree of a zoning restriction’s
burden on religious exercise are practical matters to be determined based on the specific circumstances of a
particular case. A restriction need not be completely prohibitive to be substantial; it is enough that alternatives
for the religious exercise are severely restricted. The City notes that no one in the present case was prohibited
from attending church, but religious exercise is not so confined. The cases support our conclusion that
Ordinance 1999-02 substantially burdened Barr’s religious exercise.
“To say that a person’s right to free exercise has been burdened, of course, does not mean that he has an
absolute right to engage in the conduct.”98 The government may regulate such conduct in furtherance of a
Consistent with its contention that TRFRA does not apply to zoning, the City asserts in its brief: “Zoning itself
is a compelling state interest.” That position, as we have already discussed, has been rejected by this Court
and by the Supreme Court.99 Although the government’s interest in the public welfare in general, and in
preserving a common character of land areas and use in particular, is certainly legitimate when properly
motivated and appropriately directed, the assertion that zoning ordinances are per se superior to fundamental,
constitutional rights, such as the free exercise of religion, must fairly be regarded as indefensible.
The Supreme Court held in Smith, not that the government’s interest in neutral laws of general application is
always compelling when compared to the people’s interest in fundamental rights, but only that the United
States Constitution does not require the two interests to be balanced every time they conflict. RFRA, RLUIPA,
and TRFRA, as well as laws enacted other states, now require that balance by statute when government
action substantially burdens the free exercise of religion. The government’s interest is compelling when the
balance weighs in its favor — that is, when the government’s interest justifies the substantial burden on
religious exercise. Because religious exercise is a fundamental right, that justification can be found only in
“interests of the highest order”,100 to quote the Supreme Court in Yoder, and to quote Sherbert, only to avoid
“‘the gravest abuses, endangering paramount interest[s]’”.101 Thus, in Yoder, the state’s interest in children
attending the first two years of high school was not sufficiently compelling to justify the substantial burden on
the Amish people’s religious conviction that children be taught at home.102 And in Sherbert, the state’s
interest in a uniform unemployment compensation system and the reduced possibility of fraudulent claims was
not compelling enough to deny benefits to a claimant who had refused to work on Saturday because of her
The Supreme Court recently explained in Gonzales v. O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal that
“RFRA requires the Government to demonstrate that the compelling interest test is satisfied through
application of the challenged law ‘to the person’ — the particular claimant whose sincere exercise of religion is
being substantially burdened.”104 To satisfy this requirement, the Supreme Court stated, courts must “look
beyond broadly formulated interests justifying the general applicability of government mandates and scrutinize
 the asserted harm of granting specific exemptions to particular religious claimants.”105 Acknowledging that
there is “no cause to pretend that the task . . . is an easy one”,106 the Court held that RFRA requires that
“courts should strike sensible balances, pursuant to a compelling interest test that requires the Government to
address the particular practice at issue.”107
In this regard, there is no basis for distinguishing RFRA from TRFRA; the same requirement verbatim is in
both. The Sinton City Council’s recitation in Ordinance 1999-02 — that “the requirements of this section are
reasonably necessary to preserve the public safety, morals, and general welfare” — is the kind of “broadly
formulated interest” that does not satisfy the scrutiny mandated by TRFRA. Likewise, the trial court’s brief
finding — that “[t]he ordinance was in furtherance of a compelling government interest” — falls short of the
required scrutiny. As Professor Douglas Laycock has observed regarding TRFRA and state RFRAs generally:
“the compelling interest test must be taken seriously. Courts and litigants must focus on real and serious
burdens to neighboring properties, and not assume that zoning codes inherently serve a compelling interest,
or that every incremental gain to city revenue (in commercial zones), or incremental reduction of traffic (in
residential zones), is compelling.”108
Although TRFRA places the burden of proving a substantial burden on the claimant, it places the burden of
proving a compelling state interest on the government. The City argues that its compelling interest in
Ordinance 1999-02 is established by statutes providing that correctional facility regulations presumptively
meet strict scrutiny. As we have already explained, however, these statutes are inapplicable.109
The City also asserts that Ordinance 1999-02 serves a compelling interest in advancing safety, preventing
nuisance, and protecting children. But there is no evidence to support the City’s assertion with respect to “the
particular practice at issue” — Barr’s ministry. In fact, the only evidence is to the contrary: Barr testified that he
admitted only nonviolent offenders to his program, and no aspect of his operation ever presented a safety
problem, a nuisance, or a threat to children. He and the city manager both testified that they were not aware of
any complaints of disturbance. The City cites no studies or experiences with halfway houses to support its
professed concerns. The City was not, of course, required to wait until disturbances occurred, possibly
causing significant harm, before taking measures to prevent them, but neither could it assert a compelling
interest in practically excluding a religious ministry from operating within the city limits based on nothing more
The City argues that the restrictions in Ordinance 1999-02 are similar to those imposed by state law on
facilities run by or under contract with the government.110 But the State is free to impose whatever restrictions
it chooses on itself and local governments;111 those governments have no Free Exercise rights of their own.
The State’s interest in restricting halfway houses run by or for itself or local governments when no fundamental
right is implicated does not suddenly become compelling when free religious exercise is substantially
burdened. Moreover, the City’s argument is undercut by the fact that it made no effort to enforce Ordinance
1999-02 for over a year after it was adopted. An interest that need not be enforced against the very thing it is
adopted to prevent can hardly be considered compelling.
None of the four federal cases decided before Smith upholding the application of zoning laws to worship
facilities supports the City’s arguments regarding compelling interest. Because those cases found no
substantial burden on religious exercise, the government’s interest was not required to be compelling. In the
fifth case, Islamic Center, the court held that the city’s failure to produce evidence of a compelling interest in
denying permission for a Muslim mosque in a residential area was fatal to the application of the zoning
ordinance. The City’s cases do not support its position.
In addressing the cases on which the City relies, we should not be read to suggest that worship facilities and
halfway houses are no different, or that the balancing of interests required by strict scrutiny is the same,
regardless of the nature of the religious conduct. TRFRA’s requirement of an assessment of the burden “to
the person” necessitates taking into account the individual circumstances. We have focused on the five cases
the City cites because of its reliance on them, but as we have noted, the applicable principles must also be
drawn from other contexts.
The City’s failure to establish a compelling interest in this case in no way suggests that the government never
has a compelling interest in zoning for religious use of property or in regulating halfway houses operated for
religious purposes.112 TRFRA guarantees a process, not a result. The City’s principal position in this case
has been that it is exempt from TRFRA. We do not hold that the City could not have satisfied TRFRA; we hold
only that it failed to do so.
Finally, TRFRA requires that even when the government acts in furtherance of a compelling interest, it must
show that it used the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. The City has made no effort to show
that it complied with this requirement. Ordinance 1999-02 is very broad. If as the city manager testified,
locations in the City of Sinton more than 1,000 feet from a residential area, school, park, recreational area, or
church are “pretty close to nonexistent”, the ordinance effectively prohibits any private “residential facility . . .
operated for the purpose of housing persons . . . convicted of misdemeanors . . . within one . . . year after
having been released from confinement in any penal institution” inside the city limits. Read literally, this would
prohibit a Sinton resident from leasing a room to someone within a year of his having been jailed for twice
driving with an invalid license.113 Such restrictions are certainly not the least restrictive means of insuring that
religiously operated halfway houses do not jeopardize children’s safety and residents’ wellbeing.
We conclude, based on the record before us, that Ordinance 1999-02, as applied to Barr’s ministry, violates
TRFRA. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals. Because the trial court did not reach
the issues of appropriate injunctive relief, actual damages, and attorney fees, we remand the case to the trial
court for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
Nathan L. Hecht
Opinion delivered: June 19, 2009
1 Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 110.003(a)-(b).
2 ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex. App.–Corpus Christi-Edinburg 2005).
3 The “statement of faith” provided: “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word
of God. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We
believe in the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, His sinless life, His atoning death on the cross,
and His bodily resurrection from the grave. We believe that Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of the
Father, now rules as Head of His Body, the Church, and will personally return in power and glory. We believe
that man in his natural state is lost and thus alienated from God, and that salvation through personal faith in
the person and work of Jesus Christ is essential. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, by whose
indwelling a Christian is made spiritually alive and enabled to live a godly life. We believe in the resurrection of
both the saved and the lost, they who are saved into the resurrection of life, and they who are lost unto the
resurrection of damnation. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in Christ. I understand that my
signature indicates my agreement with the above statement of faith.”
4 The guidelines included: “Substance abuse of any nature is not permitted in Philemon Restoration Homes. A
violation in or outside of the home is cause for termination of your residency. . . . Smoking anywhere is not
allowed. . . . Possession of weapons of any nature will terminate your residency. . . . Be respectful of the
property of other residents. . . . Attend and be on time for all family and biblical discipleship meetings . . . .
Gambling or playing the lottery is not allowed. . . . Fights, threats, or aggressive behavior is not allowed . . . .
Do not engage in illicit sexual activity anywhere nor in sexual activity within the house. . . . Borrowing or lending
money is not allowed between residents or between residents and staff. . . . Being truthful about everything
during your stay at Philemon Restoration Homes is expected. . . . In consideration of others, keep noise levels
down and activities to a minimum after 11:00 p.m. . . . You are here because the Lord placed you here. . . .”
5 Specifically, the questions concerned chapter 244 of the Local Government Code, relating to the location of
correctional or rehabilitation facilities, and chapter 509 of the Texas Government Code, relating to the
operation of community corrections facilities. Both chapters apply to facilities operated by the government or
under government contract. Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 244.001(1)(A); Tex. Gov’t Code § 509.001(1). Barr and
Philemon have never operated under government contract.
6 At trial, Jackie Knox, the city manager at the time Ordinance 1999-02 was passed, testified as follows:
“Q. Was this ordinance written in response to activities of the home that Mr. Barr and Philemon
“A. That was probably one of the agents of doing this, yes, sir.
“Q. That was the purpose of the ordinance?
“A. Probably so.
“Q. I’m sorry?
“A. For an establishment like that, yes.
“Q. Was there any other establishment to your knowledge —
“A. No, sir.
“Q. — being targeted?
“A. No, sir.
“Q. So this one was specifically targeted?
“A. For that type of establishment, yes.”
7 The city manager testified briefly about a facility located outside the City:
“Q. You were asked a question about the detention facilities in the city. Is there some type of facility that is
very near the city limits that is used by other state agencies for —
“A. Yes, sir, the restitution center there on 77 Business.
“Q. How far is that from the city limits?
“A. It’s just outside the city limits.
“Q. Did the city also have public hearings on that?
“A. That I have no idea. I think that was prior to any knowledge I would have of that. That was before my
8 The attorney’s letter to the City referred to the ordinance as 156.026, the number of the section that
Ordinance 1999-02 added to the City Code. Although the trial court found that “[p]laintiffs failed to give notice
as required by the Religious Freedom Act”, the City does not argue that here. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem.
Code § 110.006(a) (“A person may not bring an action to assert a claim under this chapter unless, 60 days
before bringing the action, the person gives written notice to the government agency by certified mail, return
receipt requested: (1) that the person’s free exercise of religion is substantially burdened by an exercise of the
government agency’s governmental authority; (2) of the particular act or refusal to act that is burdened; and
(3) of the manner in which the exercise of governmental authority burdens the act or refusal to act.”).
9 See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 110.005(a)-(b) (“(a) Any person, other than a government agency, who
successfully asserts a claim or defense under this chapter is entitled to recover: (1) declaratory relief under
Chapter 37; (2) injunctive relief to prevent the threatened violation or continued violation; (3) compensatory
damages for pecuniary and nonpecuniary losses; and (4) reasonable attorney’s fees, court costs, and other
reasonable expenses incurred in bringing the action. (b) Compensatory damages awarded under Subsection
(a)(3) may not exceed $10,000 for each entire, distinct controversy, without regard to the number of members
or other persons within a religious group who claim injury as a result of the government agency’s exercise of
governmental authority. A claimant is not entitled to recover exemplary damages under this chapter.”).
10 On interlocutory appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s order. Barr v. City of Sinton, No. 13-
02-079-CV, 2003 Tex. App. LEXIS 2311, 2003 WL 1340689 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi Mar. 20, 2003) (op. on
reh’g). We dismissed the petition for review for want of jurisdiction. Barr v. City of Sinton, 46 Tex. Sup. Ct. J.
1062 (Aug. 28, 2003).
11 The trial court also found that Barr and Philemon’s “facility” violated the 1,000-foot restriction imposed on
certain correctional or rehabilitation facilities under section 244.003 of the Texas Local Government Code, and
the minimum standards for certain community correction facilities under section 509.006(c) of the Texas
Government Code. Both statutes apply only to facilities operated by the government or under contract with the
government. Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 244.003; Tex. Gov’t Code § 509.001. Although the trial court found that
Barr and Philemon operated under contract with the government, there is no evidence they did.
12 ___ S.W.3d ___, ___ (Tex. App.–Corpus Christi-Edinburg 2005).
13 50 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 218 (Tex. Dec. 15, 2006).
14 We have received amicus briefs from the American Center for Law and Justice, the American Civil Liberties
Union Foundation of Texas, Senator David Sibley, Representative Scott Hochberg, and Prison Fellowship, all
in support of petitioners.
15 521 U.S. 507 (1997).
16 494 U.S. 872 (1990).
17 U.S. Const. amend. I (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof . . . .”).
18 City of Boerne, 521 U.S. at 514.
19 Id. at 513.
21 374 U.S. 398, 399-402 (1963).
22 406 U.S. 205 (1972).
23 City of Boerne, 521 U.S. at 514.
24 Smith v. Employment Div., Dep’t of Human Res., 494 U.S. 872, 891 (1990) (O’Connor, J., concurring in the
25 City of Boerne, 521 U.S. at 515.
26 Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, Pub. L. No. 103-141, 107 Stat. 1488 (1993) (codified at 42 U.S.
C. §§ 2000bb to 2000bb-4 (2006)).
27 Id. § 2000bb(a)(2).
28 Id. § 2000bb(a)(3).
29 Id. § 2000bb(b).
30 Id. § 2000bb-1(a) to (b).
31 §§ 5(1), 6(a), 107 Stat. at 1489.
32 521 U.S. 507, 532-534 (1997); see Gonzales v. O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal, 546 U.S.
418, 424 n.1 (2006) (“As originally enacted, RFRA applied to States as well as the Federal Government. In
[City of Boerne], we held the application to States to be beyond Congress’ legislative authority under § 5 of the
33 Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106-274, § 7, 114 Stat. 803, 806
(2000) (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-2(1) to (2) (2006)); see also Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 715 n.2
(2005) (“RFRA, Courts of Appeals have held, remains operative as to the Federal Government and federal
territories and possessions. This Court, however, has not had occasion to rule on the matter.” (citations
34 §§ 2-6, 8, 114 Stat. at 803-807 (codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc to 2000cc-5).
35 42 U.S.C.§ 2000cc(a)(1) (“No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that
imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or
institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or
institution — (A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (B) is the least restrictive means
of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”).
36 Id. §§ 2000cc(b), -2(g), -5(4).
37 Although this Court applied Smith in HEB Ministries, Inc. v. Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board,
235 S.W.3d 627 (Tex. 2007), we found it unnecessary to decide in that case whether to construe article I,
section 6 of the Texas Constitution as Smith construed the federal Free Exercise Clause. We have not
addressed that issue and do not do so here.
38 See William W. Bassett, Religious Organizations and the Law § 2:54 (2008) (listing 13 states that have
adopted statutes and 17 in which courts have adopted a stricter standard than Smith).
39 Act of May 30, 1999, 76th Leg., R.S., ch. 399, 1999 Tex. Gen. Laws 2511.
40 Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 110.003(a)-(b).
41 Id. § 110.009(b).
42 See, e.g., R.R. Street & Co. Inc. v. Pilgrim Enters., Inc., 166 S.W.3d 232, 241 (Tex. 2005) (stating that
construction of the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act would be guided by federal cases construing its federal
counterpart, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act); Quantum Chem.
Corp. v. Toennies, 47 S.W.3d 473, 476 (Tex. 2001) (stating that because the purposes of the Texas
Commission on Human Rights Act and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 are similar, federal case
law is instructive in applying the state statute); City of Garland v. Dallas Morning News, 22 S.W.3d 351, 360-
361 (Tex. 2000) (plurality opinion) (stating that the federal Freedom of Information Act is instructive in
construing the Texas Public Information Act); National Tank Co. v. Brotherton, 851 S.W.2d 193, 202 (Tex.
1993) (stating that because the work product doctrine is similar in Texas and federal courts, federal case law is
43 ___ S.W.3d at ___ (“Assuming without determining that Pastor Barr’s ministry is substantially motivated by
sincere religious belief, we nonetheless conclude that while the ordinance precludes Pastor Barr from
operating a correctional or rehabilitation facility within 1000 feet of residential areas, schools, parks, recreation
areas, and places of worship, which may include most of the City, there is nothing in the ordinance that
precludes him from providing his religious ministry to parolees and probationers, from providing instruction,
counsel, and helpful assistance in other facilities in Sinton, or from housing these persons outside the City and
providing his religious ministry to them there.” (footnote omitted)).
44 Id. at ___ (“Moreover, Texas courts have long applied zoning ordinances to church-operated schools and
colleges, supporting the conclusion that zoning ordinances do not substantially burden such auxiliary religious
operations.” (citing Fountain Gate Ministries, Inc., v. City of Plano, 654 S.W.2d 841, 844 (Tex. App.–Dallas
1983, writ ref’d n.r.e.), and Heard v. City of Dallas, 456 S.W.2d 440, 444 (Tex. App.–Dallas 1970, writ ref’d n.r.
45 See City of Sherman v. Simms, 183 S.W.2d 415, 416-417 (Tex. 1944) (“[T]he power to establish zones is a
police power and its exercise cannot be extended beyond the accomplishment of purposes rightly within the
scope of that power. To exclude churches from residential districts does not promote the health, the safety, the
morals or the general welfare of the community, and to relegate them to business and manufacturing districts
could conceivably result in imposing a burden upon the free right to worship and, in some instances, in
prohibiting altogether the exercise of that right. An ordinance fraught with that danger will not be enforced.”).
46 Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 110.002(a) (emphasis added).
47 452 U.S. 61, 68-70 (1981) (citations, footnotes, and internal quotation marks and brackets omitted).
48 Id. at 65.
49 374 U.S. 398, 406 (1963).
50 Id. (quoting Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. 516, 530 (1945)).
51 896 F.2d 1221 (9th Cir. 1990).
52 859 F.2d 820 (10th Cir. 1988).
53 840 F.2d 293 (5th Cir. 1988).
54 721 F.2d 729 (11th Cir. 1983).
55 699 F.2d 303 (6th Cir. 1983).
56 Islamic Ctr., 840 F.2d at 299.
57 Id. at 300.
58 Grosz, 721 F.2d at 734.
59 Id. at 737 (citing Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963); Thomas v. Review Bd. of the Ind. Employment
Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707 (1981); and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972)).
60 Christian Gospel Church, Inc., v. City & County of San Francisco, 896 F.2d 221, 1223-1224 (9th Cir. 1990)
(“We have articulated a general standard for evaluating the impact of a government provision on the exercise
of religion and we find that this test is appropriate for analyzing a challenge to zoning laws. This test involves
examining the following three factors: (1) the magnitude of the statute’s impact upon the exercise of the
religious belief; (2) the existence of a compelling state interest justifying the imposed burden upon the exercise
of the religious belief; and (3) the extent to which recognition of an exemption from the statute would impede
the objectives sought to be advanced by the state.”).
61 Lakewood, Ohio Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses v. City of Lakewood, 699 F.2d 303, 305 (6th Cir.
1983) (“If the ordinance does infringe the Congregation’s first amendment right, the City must justify the
ordinance by a compelling governmental interest.”).
62 859 F.2d 820, 824-825 (10th Cir. 1988).
63 See, e.g., Mayhew v. Town of Sunnyvale, 964 S.W.2d 922, 932-933 (Tex. 1998) (“Although determining
whether a property regulation is unconstitutional requires the consideration of a number of factual issues, the
ultimate question of whether a zoning ordinance constitutes a compensable taking or violates due process or
equal protection is a question of law, not a question of fact. . . . While we depend on the district court to
resolve disputed facts regarding the extent of the governmental intrusion on the property, the ultimate
determination of whether the facts are sufficient to constitute a taking is a question of law.” (citations omitted)).
64 Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 110.001(a)(1).
65 Employment Div., Dep’t of Human Res. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 886-887 (1990) (citation omitted).
66 Gonzales v. O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418, 424 (2006) (“In Employment
Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 110 S.Ct. 1595, 108 L.Ed.2d 876 (1990), this
Court held that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment does not prohibit governments from
burdening religious practices through generally applicable laws.”).
67 Tex. Gov’t Code § 312.002 (stating that “words shall be given their ordinary meaning” except when “a word
is connected with and used with reference to a particular trade or subject matter or is used as a word of art”).
68 Webster’s Third New Int’l Dictionary 2280 (1961).
69 See Coronel v. Paul, 316 F. Supp. 2d 868, 876-880 (D. Ariz. 2004) (discussing cases and commentaries).
70 Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 110.001(a)(1).
71 Adkins v. Kaspar, 393 F.3d 559, 570 (5th Cir. 2004).
72 Brief of the American Center for Law and Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Texas,
Senator David Sibley, and Representative Scott Hochberg as Amici Curiae Supporting Petitioners at 3.
73 Adkins, 393 F.3d at 571.
75 ___ S.W.3d at ___.
76 Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church, Inc. v. City of New Berlin, 396 F.3d 895, 901 (7th Cir.
2005) (holding that requiring church to relocate, while not an insuperable burden, was substantial).
77 Schneider v. New Jersey, 308 U.S. 147, 163 (1939).
78 See supra note .
79 Schad v. Borough of Mount Ephraim, 452 U.S. 61 (1981).
80 See Borough of Mount Ephraim, New Jersey, http://www.mountephraim-nj/statistics.html (last visited June
81 Schad, 452 U.S. at 76-77.
82 Tex. Gov’t Code § 76.018 (“For purposes of Chapter 110, Civil Practice and Remedies Code, an
ordinance, rule, order, decision, or practice that applies to a person in the custody of a correctional facility
operated by or under a contract with a community supervision and corrections department is presumed to be
in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
The presumption may be rebutted.”); id. § 493.024 (“For purposes of Chapter 110, Civil Practice and
Remedies Code, an ordinance, rule, order, decision, or practice that applies to a person in the custody of a jail
or other correctional facility operated by or under a contract with the department is presumed to be in
furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
The presumption may be rebutted.”); Tex. Hum. Res. Code § 61.097 (“For purposes of Chapter 110, Civil
Practice and Remedies Code, an ordinance, rule, order, decision, or practice that applies to a person in the
custody of a juvenile detention facility or other correctional facility operated by or under a contract with the
commission, a county, or a juvenile probation department is presumed to be in furtherance of a compelling
governmental interest and the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. The presumption may be
rebutted.”); Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 361.101 (“For purposes of Chapter 110, Civil Practice and Remedies
Code, an ordinance, rule, order, decision, or practice that applies to a person in the custody of a municipal or
county jail or other correctional facility operated by or under a contract with a county or municipality is
presumed to be in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and the least restrictive means of
furthering that interest. The presumption may be rebutted.”)
83 Grosz v. City of Miami Beach, 721 F.2d 729, 731 (11th Cir. 1983).
84 Christian Gospel Church, Inc. v. City & County of San Francisco, 896 F.2d 1221, 1222-1223 (9th Cir. 1990).
85 Grosz, 721 F.2d at 739.
86 Christian Gospel Church, 896 F.2d at 1224.
87 Lakewood, Ohio Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Inc. v. City of Lakewood, Ohio, 699 F.2d 303, 304-
305 (6th Cir. 1983).
88 Id. at 307.
89 Messiah Baptist Church v. County of Jefferson, 859 F.2d 820, 821 (10th Cir. 1988).
90 Id. at 824-825.
91 Islamic Ctr. of Miss., Inc. v. City of Starkville, 840 F.2d 293, 294 (5th Cir. 1988).
92 Id. at 298.
93 Id. at 299, 300 (brackets in original, footnotes omitted, quoting Schad v. Borough of Mount Ephraim, 452 U.
S. 61, 76-77 (1981) (quoting Schneider v. New Jersey, 308 U.S. 147, 163 (1939))).
94 Id. at 302.
95 Id. at 294 (“While the city ordinance restricts the use of any property in this type of residential area or in the
City’s commercial district as a church, 25 churches, all Christian, are located in similarly regulated areas.
Sixteen of these churches occupied their present sites before the ordinance became effective, and nine
moved in thereafter with the benefit of an exception. Only the Islamic Center has ever been denied an
96 Id. at 296 (“Next door to the Islamic Center is an impressive brick two-story building, graced by stately white
columns and a broad veranda, once occupied as a fraternity house. This is now Maranatha House, a
residence and worship center for a Pentecostal Christian denomination. Five more churches lie within a
quarter mile of these two religious centers.”).
97 Id. at 302.
98 Employment Div., Dep’t of Human Res. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 894 (1990) (O’Connor, J., concurring in the
99 See supra Part III.
100 Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 215 (1972).
101 Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 406 (1963) (quoting Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. 516, 530 (1945)).
102 Yoder, 406 U.S. at 228-229.
103 Sherbert, 374 U.S. at 407.
104 546 U.S. 418, 430-431 (2006).
105 Id. at 431.
106 Id. at 439.
108 Douglas Laycock, State RFRAs and Land Use Regulation, 32 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 755, 784 (1999).
109 See supra note 82 and accompanying text.
110 See supra note .
111 See Ysursa v. Pocatello Educ. Ass’n, ___ U.S. ___, ___ (2009) (“‘Political subdivisions of States —
counties, cities, or whatever — never were and never have been considered as sovereign entities.’” (quoting
Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 575 (1964))).
112 See Schad v. Borough of Mount Ephraim, 452 U.S. 61, 76 (1981) (stating that it “may very well be true”
that “if there were countywide zoning, it would be quite legal to allow live entertainment in only selected areas
of the county and to exclude it from primarily residential communities, such as the Borough of Mount Ephraim”).
113 A second conviction for driving with an invalid license is a Class B misdemeanor. Tex. Transp. Code §
521.457(f). The maximum punishment for a Class B misdemeanor is a $2,000 fine and 180 days’
imprisonment. Tex. Penal Code § 12.22.