With the collapsing housing market and the mass of foreclosures came hordes of opportunists, who unfortunately preyed on desperate homeowners in foreclosure. In the past few years many companies promising relief to consumers have convinced them to hand over their money, or worse, their homes. Now, a religious group is using one quite creative way to get property owners to sign over their property to them in Chicago’s Cook County.
Moorish Science Temple of America
Cook County is in somewhat of a standoff with a group called the Moorish Science Temple of America. The Temple is claiming that they are a sovereign and autonomous nation, and thus not subject to the laws of the United States. Under that authority, they have claimed ownership of numerous properties, and filed documents in the public records claiming ownership of both vacant and occupied property. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, They have even convinced homeowners to deed their properties to them in order to save the properties from foreclosure. And when Cook County tried to warn people of what the county stated was a scam, the Temple claimed it was slander, and sent the county notice that it was fining it to the tune of $1 million (although no actual lawsuit has been filed).
The Moorish Science Temple is a religion; that much is not disputed. The question is whether they are actually autonomous, and free from U.S. laws, as they claim they are the result of a treaty with the government of Morocco in 1787. Although we do have separation of church and state in America, this generally does not permit citizens of any religion to simply avoid U.S. law, much less claim entitlement to property that belongs to others.
Other Organizations Avoiding the Law
This isn’t the first time a group has attempted to avoid U.S. Law by claiming autonomy. In 2010-2011, a company named the United Cities Group, claiming they had their own bank, courts, and currency, threatened to take over Bank of America in 2010, under the auspice they were not subject to U.S. Laws.
Although some of these groups may be valid religions, groups that attempt to avoid U.S. law because of religious belief have been dubbed “The sovereign citizen movement.” Many groups will file documents claiming entitlement to property or trying to avoid criminal fines or penalties. And while the filings usually don’t have any legal basis or effect, most government offices will accept any filing, meaning that these filings can and sometimes do cloud title to real property or create similar problems in public records. Someone closing on a home, for example, may have a problem if there is a false filing in the public records by anyone who claims entitlement to the property but doesn’t actually have one. Some states don’t even consider filing fake or false documents a crime.
No matter how convincing someone may seem when convincing you to transfer your property to them to avoid foreclosure or eviction, such schemes should always be avoided. The best route is always to consult with an experienced real estate attorney. Contact The Slater Firm LTD to discuss your rights and how to best protect yourself if you have a landlord-tenant or any real estate-related question or problem.