DB: Where are you?
DD: In Atlanta. I’m here working with some local churches that are leaving the United Methodist denomination to become independent. Our law firm specializes in resolving religious property disputes and other religious and property matters. We started 11 years ago.
DB: Are there local cases?
DD: We represented the American Islamic Community Center in Sterling Heights (in 2017), which sought to build a mosque. The city changed its zoning laws to keep them out. The Sterling Heights Planning Commission denied the mosque a permit to build, which was on a discriminatory basis.
DB: What Happened?
DD: We sued, and we were joined by the United States government. They became a party and intervened (in the lawsuit) because the actions by the planning commission were a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The act was signed into law in 2000, and puts churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other religious-based organizations like schools on a level playing field with secular assembly uses such as theaters, city halls, banquet halls — anywhere people assemble.
DB: What was the outcome?
DD: We settled the case. Mayor Michael Taylor was terrific to work with, and he recognized that the mosque had every right to build in the city. We often settle the cases before they go to trial. But in one instance, Academy of Our Lady of the Peace vs. the City of San Diego went to trial over a zoning dispute and we were awarded more than $1 million (in damages), plus attorney fees.
DB: How’s your new book doing?
DD: It’s going well and came out on July 21. “Religious Property Disputes and the Law: House of God. Laws of Man,” was published by the American Bar Association. It was a pleasure to write it and see it published.