Original Photography by Pai Shih (Licensed, cropped from original)
Original Photography by Pai Shih (Licensed, cropped from original)

We’ve been monitoring news items involving local government, religion, and land use that may be of interest to our readers.  Below is what has caught our attention.

  • Livingston Daily reports that Genoa Charter Township has replied to a religious school’s emergency motion for a preliminary injunction in a RLUIPA suit in Michigan – Livingston Christian Schools v. Genoa Charter Township (prior post here). The Township argues that its “denial of a special-use permit does not require the school to violate or abandon its religious beliefs, force the school to choose between its religious beliefs and benefits to which it is entitled, or prevent the school from pursuing and carrying out its religious mission.”
  • Advisor & Source Newspapers reports about a controversial mosque proposal before Michigan’s Sterling Heights Planning & Zoning Commission. On August 13, the Commission heard nearly 4 hours of comments concerning the religious group’s special land use application to construct a 20,500 square foot facility on 4.3 acres in a residence zone.  Typical NIMBY concerns, such as parking and traffic overflow, were raised by members of the public to oppose the application.  The Commission has postponed its vote, with one commissioner stating: “It’s a big development that’s going to affect a lot of people. I would like some more time to make sure I’m 100 percent comfortable with my decision.”
  • Comedian John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” recently founded a church called Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption to show how easy it is to create a religious organization that can solicit tax-exempt contributions. The August 16 episode of Last Week Tonight in which Mr. Oliver takes televangelists to task can be viewed hereCBS This Morning reports further on this matter.  Local governments may find this of interest insofar as it could be an example of a situation in which religious beliefs may not be “sincerely” held.  The courts have held that while it is not permissible to question the truth or falsity or religious beliefs, questioning whether an individual or entity sincerely holds those beliefs is fair game.  In zoning, an example of this could be an applicant seeking to use religious as a way to circumvent zoning.  To read about a couple of college fraternity that argued they were religious organizations under local zoning codes, see our prior post – Illinois Federal Court: College Fraternity House Does Not Constitute a Monastery.
  • Mineral Wells Index reports that Texas has lifted its longtime state policy prohibiting inmates from growing beards to now allow inmates ½ inch beards. However, the state remains embroiled in pending litigating involving a Muslim prisoner who wants to grow a 4 inch beard.  Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled, in Holt v. Hobbs, that an Arkansas policy prohibiting prisoners from growing beards violated RLUIPA.  See our post about that case – Supreme Court Holds Prison Grooming Policy Violates RLUIPA: Did Local Government Take a Haircut in the Process?
  • The Daily Item reports that a Pennsylvania church, Ridge View Evangelical Free Church, set up a shooting range on its property without first obtaining permission from zoning authorities. After receiving complaints, the church removed the shooting range. Municipal officials have indicated that the range does not appear to be a gun club under the local regulations and there are no safety concerns.  It is not clear if the church claims use of the shooting range is an exercise of its religion.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy reports about a Colorado appellate court decision that found that a Colorado bakery could be liable under the state’s anti-discrimination law for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.  The Colorado court rejected the bakery’s religious freedom arguments, because the law at issue is neutral and generally applicable and does not require a religious exemption, as well as the bakery’s free speech arguments.  The decision in Mullins v. Masterpiece Cakeshop, Inc. is available here.
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Photo of Evan Seeman Evan Seeman

Evan J. Seeman is a lawyer in Robinson+Cole’s Hartford office and focuses his practice on land use, real estate, environmental, and regulatory matters, representing local governments, developers and advocacy groups. He has spoken and written about RLUIPA, and was a lead author of…

Evan J. Seeman is a lawyer in Robinson+Cole’s Hartford office and focuses his practice on land use, real estate, environmental, and regulatory matters, representing local governments, developers and advocacy groups. He has spoken and written about RLUIPA, and was a lead author of an amicus curiae brief at the petition stage before the United States Supreme Court in a RLUIPA case entitled City of San Leandro v. International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

Evan serves as the Secretary/Treasurer of the APA’s Planning & Law Division. He also serves as the Chair of the Planning & Zoning Section of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section, and is the former Co-Chair of its Municipal Law Section. He has been named to the Connecticut Super Lawyers® list as a Rising Star in the area of Land Use Law for 2013 and 2014. He received his B.A. in political science and Russian studies (with honors) from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was selected as the President’s Fellow in the Department of Modern Languages and Literature. Evan received his Juris Doctor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, where he served on the Connecticut Law Review. While in law school, he interned with the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General in the environmental department, and served as a judicial intern for the judges of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court. Following law school, Evan clerked for the Honorable F. Herbert Gruendel of the Connecticut Appellate Court.