Santa Fe County

Santa Fe County.

Santa Fe County

In July of 2009, the Santa Fe, New Mexico chapter of the UDV requested a building permit to construct a temple for its religious services on the same land in Santa Fe county where it had realized its ceremonies over a period of more than 14 years.

The Santa Fe County Commission, ignoring the recommendation of its own hired engineers, land use staff, and County Development Review Committee (all of which recommended approval of the UDV’s application) voted to deny the request.

Finding that the county’s decision to deny the UDV’s request was discriminatory in nature, on February 2, 2012, the local UDV church filed a lawsuit in New Mexico Federal District Court. The action sought a judgment against Santa Fe County under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the Equal Protection clause of the constitution, and other federal and New Mexico state laws securing the right to free exercise of religion.

Through this lawsuit, the Santa Fe chapter of the UDV sought to be able to construct a house of worship and to exercise rights already granted by law.

On May 17th, 2012, Subsequent to the UDV’s filing its Request for Judicial Relief, the Santa Fe County defendants filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit altogether (without even formally hearing the case).  The UDV’s formal response to that motion is available here.

On May 25th, 2012, the assistant Attorney General for the Government of the United States filed a “Statement of Interest in Opposition” to the Santa Fe County defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the UDV case.  This almost unprecedented show of support from the Federal Government (in the application of its laws protecting civil liberties) was also signed by United States Attorney for the State of New Mexico, the assistant U.S. Attorney for the Civil Division of the same U.S. Attorney’s office, and trial lawyers from the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in Washington.  This document is available here.

On November 8th 2012, the UDV, through its lawyers and authorized representatives, reached a mediated settlement agreement with the lawyers and representatives of the Board of Santa Fe County Commissioners bringing the federal lawsuit to a peaceful resolution.  Under the terms of the agreement, the UDV is being granted the building permit, which had previously been denied.

As part of the settlement agreement the Board of County Commissioners, on November 27th, signed a new order which “vacated” the previous order “in its entirety . . . to have no force and effect and shall have no value as precedent for future applications of the applicant, or any other applicant”.  A copy of the County’s order resulting from the settlement agreement is available here.