Today we report on a fascinating decision out of the Tenth Circuit.  It’s not a land use case.  It’s not even an RLUIPA case.  But we thought it appropriate for this time of year.  The plaintiff, a pro se prisoner named Muamar Sayyed, claims to be the “Spirit of God and Son of Man, the second coming of Jesus Christ and the Messiah for which the Bible instructs Christians to watch.”  According to Mr. Sayyed, he has evidence that he is the Messiah.  For example, he says that if you attribute numbers to the letters in the word “Jesus,” based on where the letters fall in the alphabet, and then add those numbers together, it equals 74.  According to Mr. Sayyed, if you do the same with respect to “Moammar,” a variation of his first name, you also get 74.

Mr. Sayyed sued several churches on a claim for “Contracts, Agreement not honored by Defendants.”  Mr. Sayyed believes that he, as the self-proclaimed Son of God, and the churches had a binding contract in the form of the Bible.  He sent the churches three letters and “invitations asking, explaining, advising, ordering and demanding that they abide by clear and explicit agreements and contracts set forth in the Bible.”  Mr. Sayyed believes that the churches “preach and agree, know and understand, desire and have a deep committment [sic] in honor and filfilling [sic] these agreements, yet they had failed to do so.”  The Tenth Circuit found Mr. Sayyed’s claims to be both legally and factually frivolous, because Mr. Sayyed’s belief that he is the Messiah depicts a “fantastic or delusional scenario[].”

What is of interest in this decision?  It exemplifies the limits to religious protection.  While the courts generally do not second guess a religious land use applicant’s religious beliefs, they may if those beliefs are posited only to defeat zoning requirements.  Take, for example, the 2006 story of Georgetown University fraternity brothers who incorporated as a religious organization (the Apostles of Peace and Unity) in an attempt to beat back the zoning code’s prohibition on six unrelated persons living together (more on that story here).  The decision in Sayyed v. Six Churches 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.

Photo of Karla Chaffee Karla Chaffee

Karla L. Chaffee is a member of Robinson+Cole’s Real Estate + Development Group and is based in the Boston office, focusing on a variety of land use and environmental matters. Karla’s interest in RLUIPA began in law school when she co-authored, “Six

Karla L. Chaffee is a member of Robinson+Cole’s Real Estate + Development Group and is based in the Boston office, focusing on a variety of land use and environmental matters. Karla’s interest in RLUIPA began in law school when she co-authored, “Six Fact Patterns of Substantial Burden in RLUIPA: Lessons for Potential Litigants,” (with Dwight Merriam) published in Albany Government Law Review (Spring 2009). Karla has continued to write and speak on RLUIPA and has represented clients in several federal proceedings, including RLUIPA, First Amendment, and Equal Protection claims. In addition to her RLUIPA practice, Karla has litigated complex environmental matters, defending claims under Massachusetts Chapter 21E. Karla’s transactional experience includes pre-acquisition and pre-financing due diligence, environmental risk assessment and risk mitigation. She also represents clients seeking local zoning approvals and counsels them on the impact of proposed or recently enacted land use legislation, as well as on land use trends across the country.

Karla is also a proud member of Robinson+Cole’s Pro Bono Committee and is dedicated to maintaining pro bono work as part of her practice. Her pro bono clients include individuals and families seeking asylum in the United States. She has also represented nonprofit organizations in obtaining tax-exempt status and has served as legal counsel in a zoning appeal for a nonprofit association created to support and protect a national park.

Photo of Diana Neeves Diana Neeves

Diana E. Neeves, a member of Robinson+Cole’s Environmental, Energy + Telecommunications Group, focuses her practice on environmental, energy, telecommunications, and utilities law. She also helps defend municipalities nationwide in cases involving the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

Ms.

Diana E. Neeves, a member of Robinson+Cole’s Environmental, Energy + Telecommunications Group, focuses her practice on environmental, energy, telecommunications, and utilities law. She also helps defend municipalities nationwide in cases involving the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

Ms. Neeves handles litigation related to environmental and land use matters. She represents clients in disputes brought under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and handles litigation involving asbestos contamination and exposure. Ms. Neeves’ litigation experience involves federal and state environmental enforcement actions and lawsuits between private parties.

Ms. Neeves regularly works with clients on the clean-up of contaminated properties, including Superfund sites. She assists clients with federal and state administrative compliance, including environmental remediation. Ms. Neeves helps represent a client who owns property which was contaminated by a previous owner, and she has been working with the state environmental agency to coordinate site clean-up.

Ms. Neeves is part of Robinson+Cole’s Utilities Group, which serves utility and energy clients on  regulatory and environmental matters. She provides a range of transactional and compliance services. She helps clients navigate all local, state and federal permitting requirements, and works to ensure they are in compliance with all regulations. Ms. Neeves has recently been working with clients on energy and conservation matters in hearings before the New York State Public Service Commission.

Ms. Neeves provides guidance to clients seeking local zoning approvals. She counsels them on meeting requirements for land development and securing necessary municipal and state permits to do so.