Last week, the United States Supreme Court denied Tree of Life Christian Schools’ petition for certiorari involving its longstanding religious dispute with Upper Arlington, Ohio (City). In 2009, Tree of Life purchased a commercially-zoned 254,000 square foot office building that it hoped to convert to a religious school. After the City denied a conditional use
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.
A United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee recently ruled that Layman Lessons Church and Welcome Baptist Church, Inc. (“Layman Lessons”) can move forward with most, but not all, of its religious discrimination claims against Metropolitan Government of Nashville/Davidson County (“Nashville”). The dispute arose in 2018, when Layman Lessons claims that Nashville used local building and zoning laws to prevent it from ministering to the poor and homeless on commercially zoned property located at 1455 Neelys Bend Road, Madison, Tennessee (“Property”). Layman Lessons provides food, clothing, shelter, a mobile shower and laundry center, transportation, life skills training, and spiritual and recovery counseling to the poor and homeless. It alleges that Nashville discriminated against it by refusing to allow it to use the Property to serve the poor and homeless in a variety of ways, including by delaying its religious use of the Property; preventing mobile food pantries in the paved parking area; issuing fabricated stop work orders, even though Layman Lessons was not violating any law; recommending demolition of Layman Lessons’ storage barn; refusing to correct an illegal storm water pipe that flooded the Property; and interfering with Layman Lessons’ existing contract with its landlord to conduct religious activities, operate mobile food pantries; and provide laundry services to the homeless.
Continue Reading Church Ministering to Homeless/Needy Can Proceed with Most of its Religious Discrimination Claims
The Planning and Law Division (PLD) of the American Planning Association is pleased to host the upcoming webcast How Land Use and Natural Resource Regulations are Shaping the Legal Cannabis Industry on Thursday, March 21, 2019 from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. EST. The program will explore how various land use and natural resource regulations shape…
Yesterday, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) reported on the case of Garden State Islamic Center v. City of Vineland. The case involves Garden State Islamic Center’s plans to build a mosque. The United States filed a Statement of Interest in the case to address the issue of what qualifies as a “land use regulation” under RLUIPA. RLUIPA applies only to land use regulations, which the statute defines as “a zoning or landmarking law, or the application of such a law, that limits or restricts a claimant’s use or development of land (including a structure affixed to land), if the claimant has an ownership, leasehold, easement, servitude, or other property interest in the regulated land or a contract or option to acquire such an interest.” The issue centered around whether a municipal sewage regulation was a land use regulation invoking RLUIPA.
Continue Reading New Jersey Islamic Group’s Religious Discrimination Claims May Proceed, Rules Federal Court
Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed a lower court’s decision dismissing a church’s religious discrimination claims. In doing so, the Fourth Circuit found that the church had properly alleged claims under RLUIPA based in part on the community’s ethnic bias against the church’s connection to associated church’s in Kenya, as well as the fact that many of the church’s congregants were born in Africa. (We previously posted about the case here).
Continue Reading 4th Circuit Rules Ethnic Bias Gives Rise to RLUIPA Claim
The Seventh Circuit recently reversed a district court’s decision finding a church’s RLUIPA claims were unripe and moot because it was granted parking variances and a conditional use permit after the church brought suit. The case involves the Church of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (“Church”). For the past 15 years, the Church has gathered at a residential home in the City of Markham’s R-3 One-Family Residential District for worship services, choir rehearsals, and Bible studies. In 2012, as the Church’s congregation grew and its religious activities expanded, it remodeled the garage into a chapel. The work consisted of installing a new roof, new windows, and pews at a cost of about $40,000. Months after the Church completed this work the City of Markham brought an injunction against the Church to have the Church apply for a conditional use permit for its expanded religious activities. The City denied the conditional use permit and the Church sued, alleging violations of RLUIPA’s equal terms, substantial burden, and unreasonable limits provisions and Illinois’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act (see our prior post about this case here).
Continue Reading 7th Circuit Rules Church’s RLUIPA Claims Against Markham, Illinois Ripe for Review
The Planning and Law Division of the American Planning Association is pleased to host the upcoming webcast Planning and Law Caselaw Update on Thursday, January 31, 2019, from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. ET. Registration for individual PLD members is $20 and $45 for non-members. Registration for two or more people at one computer is $140.…
Clifton, New Jersey has agreed to pay a Jewish congregation $2.5 million and will allow it to construct a synagogue. Congregation Shomrei Torah/Tiferes Boruch asked for permission to build a synagogue 11 years ago. The congregation had to appear before Clifton’s zoning and planning board more than 30 times from 2008 to 2015. The congregation alleged that Clifton kept moving the goal line. “It was like if my son told me he couldn’t do his homework because he didn’t have a pencil. I’d get him 12 pencils, and wait for the next excuse,” said congregation president David Gross. Examples of discriminatory application of local regulations alleged by the congregation include:
- A directive that water pressure on the property had to be at 800 gallons per minute or 20 pounds of pressure per minute to fight fire. After three years, the fire department changed the requirement to 3,500 gallons per minute.
- Determining that a Friday night mikvah (ritual bath) proposed for the synagogue was a “business” use (rather than a “religious” use) and not allowed.
- Changing parking requirements from 32 parking spaces to 140 spaces.
As New Year’s approaches, let’s look back at last year’s happenings and how they have shaped religious land use issues across the nation. Here are our top 10 most read blog posts of 2018:
- County of Ventura, California’s Permitting Scheme Stricken as Prior Restraint on Free Speech
- Rabbi Lacks Standing for some RLUIPA Claims, Says
The holidays are upon us. That means spending time with loved ones, good food, presents, and, of course, controversial holiday displays. Under the First Amendment, government must treat all religions equally and cannot take any action that would unreasonably burden religious exercise unless it has a compelling reason to do so. Sometimes, local governments receive requests for provocative holiday displays on public grounds. Other times, they may receive complaints to take action to prevent over-the-top private holiday displays. In each instance, local governments might feel as though their hands are tied under the First Amendment to do anything but allow the displays. While nothing will ever quite live up to that one haunted house worker in Ohio who used zombies to create a nativity scene, baby-fanged Jesus and all (read more here), below are some of our favorite stories for 2018.
Continue Reading Tis The Season for Controversial Holiday Displays