Feds sue Walnut over denial of Buddhist worship center

I though this article was interesting, considering all the news there is about the Mosque in NY and in TN. Yes, this goes back to 2008, but I have a feeling this is just more, misunderstood ignorance that is becoming all to typical today in the US. So much for interfaith dialog eh?

From SGV Tribune

The federal government sued Walnut on Monday alleging the city violated the civil rights of a neighborhood Buddhist group by denying the group’s request to build a worship and meditation center.

The complaint by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division claims Walnut discriminated against the Chung Tai Buddhist group in January 2008 by denying the group’s permit to build a 16,000-square-foot worship center on a 2.2-acre lot on Marcon Drive just east of Suzanne Middle School.

Federal law dictates that religious groups must be treated the same as any other building applicant, according to the lawsuit.

“Defendant’s treatment and denial of the Zen Center’s Conditional Use Permit constitutes the imposition or implementation of a land use regulation that treated, and continues to treat, the Zen Center on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution, in violation of the (Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act),” wrote federal attorneys in their complaint.

Chung Tai spokesman Mike Lewis said Chung Tai members gave up on building in Walnut and instead opened the Middle Land Chan Monastery in Pomona.

“They were so disenchanted and demoralized they went and found another location,” Lewis said. “Nothing seemed to be happening.”

Walnut City Manager Rob Wishner said members of the group never appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to the City Council – common practice when a project is denied.

“The city’s contention that applicant failed to exhaust its administrative remedies,” he said. “They never appealed to the city council.”

The center’s members claim Wishner said an appeal would be useless, according to the complaint.

Normally, judges refuse to hear lawsuits if an applicant did not appeal to the city council, officials said.

Wishner also said the city undertook fair hearings regarding the proposal.

According to the suit filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Chung Tai in 2002 began working with the city to build a worship center for its 100 to 200 members. The group wanted to demolish a small house on its 2.2-acre lot and build a meditation center.

At the behest of the city’s staff, Chung Tai over the course of six years conducted a parking study, scaled back plans and made concessions regarding how many people could attend a meditation session.

According to minutes from the Jan. 16, 2008 Planning Commission, the commission finally turned down the group’s application, citing concerns with parking, crowds, property values, safety, city revenue and quality of life.

The lawsuit alleges the Zen Center was not treated fairly, pointing out the city approved a much larger expansion of the nearby St. Lorenzo Catholic Church.

The lawsuit also pointed out the city in 2003 built 38,000-square-foot Civic Center just a few doors down from the site of the proposed Zen Center.

The president of a legal group that often fights cities regarding church building projects said he was not surprised the federal government sued Walnut.

“Cities across the nation should expect to be sued when they unreasonably deny the opportunity to build a church or synagogue in their community,” said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which has defended similar cases pro bono.

“The federal government has actually been pretty aggressive … in these cases.”

If the federal government wins, Chung Tai should bill the city for all the studies and plans it conducted during the application process, Dacus said.

The lawsuit marked the second time the city has been sued by the federal government in recent years.

The federal government filed a civil rights complaint against Walnut in 2007 for failing to print election information in Chinese and Korean.


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