Lake County decision could allow religious center to open in Lake Forest area home
BY LINDA BLASER AND BETH KRAMER firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com June 19, 2013 1:08PM
Maum Meditation House of Truth received approval by Lake County that it is a religion and can now operate a center inside a home in unincorporated Lake Forest. | For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 28, 2013 6:09AM
Following an eight-month battle with neighbors and a federal lawsuit, Sheehung “Erik” Sung received confirmation this week from Lake County that the religion he has been practicing for two years is, in fact, a religion.
Sung, 48, said he was “delighted” to learn Lake County reversed its position that Maum Meditation House of Truth was not a religion and agreed to allow a center to potentially open at 24460 Elm Road near Lake Forest in unincorporated Lake County.
Under the county zoning ordinance, “religious institutions” are permitted in an estate zone. But county officials said Wednesday Sung is not allowed to operate the center just yet, since he and the center’s officials have not applied for the proper permits.
“I can’t tell you how many hundreds of hours I’ve spent dealing with this — my constitutional First Amendment right to practice my religion,” Sung said.
Officials from the Lake County Department of Planning, Building and Development said the next step for Sung is to obtain a permit that will re-zone his home from residential space to a religious institution.
The department did issue a violation notice for the property on Monday because “they are operating a meditation center in absence of county permit approval,” said Lake County Director of Planning, Building and Development Eric Waggoner.
Sung’s attorney Jeff Schwab said his client was having a party that day, however, not a religious service.
Sung donated his two-story 2,800-square-foot home to Maum Meditation so that others could practice the religion in Lake County. He spent more than $50,000 converting his home, which sits on two wooded acres, into a meditation center last fall.
Because his residence is less than 10,000 square feet, Sung did not need to seek permits from Lake County to have regular gatherings, Schwab said. But Sung decided to check with local authorities because he “was unfamiliar with the process of setting up a religious institution,” the civil complaint against Lake County says.
That’s when Lake County’s zoning board sent Sung a letter on Feb. 22 saying that Maum Meditation failed to meet the “elements of religion.”
Sung’s attorneys from Chicago-based Mauck & Baker law firm filed a federal lawsuit against Lake County, asking the court’s intervention to declare Sung’s donated property a religious institution.
Two weeks after the lawsuit was filed, Lake County Department of Planning, Building and Development sent a letter stating that they would consider it a religious institution, Schwab said.
“I think it had a lot to do with the neighbors not really wanting the Maum Center there, Schwab said. “I’m not sure if they didn’t want assembly near their house or had a problem with the religion — there’s no way to gauge that. I think the important point is they are now considered a religious institution and they will be allowed to meet.”
The lawsuit claims that the county asked neighbors to keep track of who was coming and going from the home, to take pictures of cars and license plates, and call a hotline with any complaints, according to court records.
But county officials say this is untrue.
“Absolutely not,” Waggoner said. He said the county’s complaint hotline, which has been set up for about a year — before this issue arose — has received “a fair number of complaints from property owners about gatherings at that location” starting early this year.
He couldn’t say how many, however, but said it was more than one or two neighbors calling.
Ultimately, Waggoner said the county changed its mind after receiving information from the property owner that Maum Meditation is part of an “emerging new religious movement” from the Far East.
“We were provided some statements from practitioners of Maum Meditation that described the activities and practice ... distinctly in religious terms, in terms of faith and belief,” Waggoner said.
Although Lake County reversed its decision to categorize Maum Meditation as a religion, the lawsuit is still pending to seek damages. Maum Meditation Center was ready to be used as a religious institution six months ago and delays caused by the Department of Planning, Building and Development have cost the group, Schawab said. They seek reimbursement.
Sung said he wants to help others find the happiness and gratitude he has found through Maum Meditation, which he practices two to three hours a day.
Raised a Baptist, Sung said he found Maum Meditation, which disregards personal ego, has reached him spiritually where other religions have not.
“Before I had my ups and downs. I don’t think I lived a life of being grateful. I’m happy now. I don’t think I’ve ever really been happy before,” he said.
Locally, Maum Meditation operates centers in Glenview, Lakeview and Naperville.
The religion was founded in South Korea in 1996 by Woo Myung to help people find the true mind within by employing meditation.
The Lake Forest Maum Meditation Center will be the first Maum Center in Lake County. There are more 340 centers worldwide, according to http://maummandurah.org.