The Lord and the land

Daniel Dalton had never really fancied himself a writer, and certainly not a blogger. But a few weeks ago, he took to the keyboard, entered the blogosphere and launched, a web site which focuses on his area of expertise, religious land use.

It’s for lawyers who have an idea that RLUIPA is looming out there, but who don’t fully understand the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act, said Dalton, co-founder of Royal Oak, Mich.-based Tomkiw Dalton plc, where he leads a team of expert land use attorneys.

Dalton also hopes the site will be a resource for church leaders.

“There’s just a lot of interest in this area of the law,” Dalton said. “For example, lawyers have asked me if  RLUIPA protect a church from eminent domain. Or does RLUIPA provide immunity for the variance process?”

The new site is, as far as Dalton knows, the only one to focus specifically as a resource for leaders of religious institutions and others affected by church property disputes and other cases pertaining to church law. It features a history of RLUIPA, an archive of religious land use cases and a blog that will offer Dalton’s unique insights and perspectives. Blog entries, which he posts a couple of times a week, will address such issues as eminent domain, property laws, religious freedom, church zoning and other topics pertaining to zoning appeals and land use.

So far, because the site only went live a few weeks ago, Dalton has received little feedback, except from people who already knew him and his work (and they say they like it). He has no set idea regarding what he’s hoping to accomplish, in terms of page views or new clients.

But he does have a vague idea about the site helping him to establish his brand, and set him apart as an expert in religious land use issues.

In 2009, while representing the House Where Jesus Shines in a case against the city of Bellmead, Texas, Dalton secured a $550,000 settlement on the day of trial, the largest RLUIPA settlement in Texas to date. Previously, Dalton won a landmark case in Carlinville, Ill., securing the rights to a former Wal-Mart building Carlinville Southern Baptist Church had purchased and also secured a cash settlement. He has done the same for several houses of worship in Michigan and many other states.  All of the cases centered around the municipalities’ desire to drive religious entities out of a community with the hope of having tax-paying entities take over existing buildings, a clear violation of RLUIPA.