Two forces are now colliding all the time all across the country.

Force #1: Outwardly focused, growing churches are launching new building projects and entrepreneurial Christians are opening coffee shops (or similar venues) that double as worship space.

Force #2: Local municipalities are passing comprehensive zoning codes designed to coordinate development efforts and foster economic growth.

Unfortunately, these forces keep crashing headlong into each other. In fact, zoning disputes were the #1 reason churches ended up in court in 2016. So, how should church leaders and committed Christians navigate the complex world of zoning and land use laws? Simple. You need a guide.

Meet land use and zoning attorney extraordinaire Noel W. Sterett from Dalton Tomich ( Noel describes his call to law practice like many pastors describe their call to vocational ministry and the core of his law practice as “ensuring people are free to serve God and their neighbors in their communities and in the marketplace.” Noel focuses his practice on the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and has assisted ministries all across the country with zoning and land use issues.

In this podcast, Noel explains the legal principles every church leader and committed Christian should know about land use and zoning laws.

3 Key Principles about RLUIPA:

  1. A municipality must treat assembly uses (meeting halls, town halls, theaters, churches, etc.) equally. 
  2. A municipality may not deny a church’s application for a special/conditional use permit if that denial works a substantial burden on religious exercise.
  3. A municipality may not totally exclude religious assemblies from a jurisdiction.

Other Key Takeaways:

  • RLUIPA does not “enforce” itself. Municipal boards are focused on economic development, and municipal attorneys are not always aware of RLUIPA or at least its implications. Therefore, it falls to people of faith (through attorneys like Noel to educate about and even “enforce” RLUIPA).
  • Noel recently wrote a brief in support of the ministerial housing allowance, which has come under attack. Noel explains the legal principles in the case and his prediction concerning its outcome.
  • Call a lawyer! Noel emphasizes the fact that he cannot always undo poor (or at least legally uninformed) planning in the area of zoning and land use. Call before you start your next project, not after!
  • He mentions Matthew 10:16, “…be…therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Noel mentions that if your are struggling with the “wise as serpents part”, call an attorney! LOL! He also explains how the Apostle Paul used his knowledge of Roman law to further his ministry.
  • Billboard statement: Keep Being Faithful and Know the Law!

Connect with Noel Sterett or his firm:

Dalton Tomich:

Noel W. Sterett: or 815-986-8050.

DISCLAIMER: This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the publisher nor Dalton Tomich or Noel W. Sterett are engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.