Photo of 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 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.

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.


Continue Reading Clifton, NJ Pays $2.5 Million to Settle RLUIPA Dispute

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:

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

Recently, the Department of Justice reported that it has closed its investigation into whether the City of Coconut Creek’s zoning code violated RLUIPA’s equal terms provision by treating secular assembly uses better than religious uses.  Below is the DOJ’s full press release:

On December 4, the Department of Justice closed its investigation of the City of Coconut Creek, Florida under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), after the City changed its zoning code to treat houses of worship equally with nonreligious assemblies.

The Department opened an investigation in 2016 into the City’s treatment of churches and other houses of worship in its zoning code.  At the time, nonreligious assemblies such as dance and martial arts studios, fitness clubs, and childcare facilities were allowed to operate as of right in business districts, while houses of worship in these districts were required to obtain special land use permits to operate. 
Continue Reading Coconut Creek, Florida Amends Zoning Code Following DOJ’s RLUIPA Investigation

The Planning and Law Division of the American Planning Association is pleased to host the upcoming webcast Planning, Law, and Plain English on November 1, 2018 from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. EDT.  Registration for individual PLD members is $20 and $45 for non-members. Registration for two or more people at one computer is $140. 

Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a decision in Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington concerning a religious school’s RLUIPA equal terms challenge.  The decision is the third time in the past five years that the Sixth Circuit has considered the dispute (our prior posts about the case are available here and here).  The recent decision is noteworthy because the Sixth Circuit created a new test (or, at least, a new name for an existing test) to examine claims brought under RLUIPA’s equal terms provision.  Under the equal terms provision, “No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.”  42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(b)(1).  Courts considering equal terms claims have struggled with what constitutes “equal” treatment.  The Sixth Circuit noted that “This language provides no guideposts for what Congress meant by the term ‘equal.’”  According to the Sixth Circuit, a plaintiff may prevail on an equal terms challenge if it identifies a nonreligious use that is similarly situated to a proposed religious use based on “legitimate zoning criteria” with respect to the zoning regulation at issue.  The Sixth Circuit’s decision is also significant because it determined that revenue generation, even in the form of taxes levied against property users and their employees, is a legitimate zoning criteria.  In applying this standard, the Sixth Circuit rejected Tree of Life Christian School’s (“TOL”) equal terms challenge for failing to establish that a nonreligious use was treated better than TOL’s proposed religious school.
Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Creates New RLUIPA Equal Terms Test Based On “Legitimate Zoning Criteria”

Back in 2015, we first reported about a RLUIPA case pitting the County of Maui, Hawaii against practitioners of “Integral Yoga” (prior post available here).  Integral Yoga is a worldwide religious organization established in the U.S. in 1966 that believes “the goal and the birthright of all individuals is to realize the spiritual unity behind the diversity throughout creation and to live harmoniously as members of ‘one universal family.’”  Maui’s Planning and Zoning Commission (the “Commission”) has repeatedly denied the efforts of Frederick R. Honig, also known as Swami Waroopananda (“Honig”), and Spirit of Aloha Temple (the “Temple”) to use an 11-acre site on Haumana Road in Haiku, Hawaii (the “Property”) for Integral Yoga and other related religious uses.  Honig (a Senior Minister of the Temple) describes the Property, which is zoned for agricultural and conservation purposes, as the “most perfect property” in the world.  A federal court issued a ruling earlier this summer denying the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, meaning the case may be headed for trial.
Continue Reading Court Denies Summary Judgment in “Integral Yoga” RLUIPA Dispute in Hawaii

A federal court in Minnesota has issued a preliminary injunction in favor of a local church ministering to the homeless, ruling that the church was likely to prevail on its RLUIPA substantial burden and First Amendment free speech claims.  The injunction will prevent St. Paul, Minnesota from enforcing 2 of the 14 conditions it imposed on the church’s use of its property to aid the needy.  The church, First Lutheran Church (“First Lutheran”), operates in a residential area of St. Paul and, for over the past decade, has supported the poor and homeless in accordance with its religious beliefs.  Among the services provided by First Lutheran are Sunday breakfasts to more than 300 people, as well as a “wellness center” one night a week offering free medical services, mental health counseling, clothing, blankets and houseware, and a hot meal.  In 2017, First Lutheran partnered with another organization assisting St. Paul’s homeless as a day shelter and community center, Listening House of St. Paul (“Listening House”), and allowed Listening House to relocate to the church property.  The partnership allowed First Lutheran to expand its services beyond the local neighborhood to St. Paul generally.
Continue Reading Church Ministering To Homeless Secures Preliminary Injunction Against St. Paul, Minn. For Likely RLUIPA And Free Speech Violations