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For week ended January 02, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Kent Larsen

Boston Temple Challenge Oral Arguments Heard
Associated Press 31Dec99 N1
By Rachel Malamud: Associated Press

BELMONT, MASSACHUSSETS -- The 1st Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals heard arguments Monday over the status of the Boston Massachussets Temple. Three neighbors of the Temple have challenged the zoning law that allowed the Church to build the Temple, claiming that it favors religions, in violation of the U.S. Constitution's first amendment. The case could even set precedent, as the neighbor's lawyer expects it to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The oral arguments were noted in two major articles, the longer and more thorough of which appeared in the New York Times, while the other appeared in many newspapers nationally through the Associated Press.

The appeal demonstrates two different and, in this case incompatible, views of the 1st amendment and religious freedom. The neighbors say that the law shouldn't favor religion over other land uses. Massachusetts' 'Dover' amendment, which the town of Belmont, Massachusetts relied on in giving the LDS Church a zoning permit, allows religions, as well as several other groups such as schools, day care centers, farms and homes for the elderly, to escape many zoning law provisions.

The neighbors say that this isn't fair to other groups, such as homeowners. "If an atheist group wanted to put up a cathedral-size building to extol the virtues of atheism and have chanting sessions about the virtues of atheism, they couldn't do it. So there's no way you can't say this is a huge advantage for religion."

The LDS Church, backed by many other religious groups like Jews, Roman Catholics, Baptists and Christian Scientists, say that the Dover amendment is meant to avoid discrimination against them. They say that without the Dover amendment, local zoning boards could keep out religions that they didn't like.

LDS Church spokesman Kenneth L. Harvey says that the Dover amendment, and laws like it around the country, also helped keep churches and schools in residential neighborhoods, strengthening families. "This is something George Washington fought for; this is something Thomas Jefferson wrote about," he said. "These are fundamental principles that go to the very fiber and meaning of what this country is all about."

He continues, "The state made a decision years ago that some uses of property are so important they didn't want to give local governments the ability to regulate them."

Outside experts observe that this is an issue elsewhere as well. "There appears to be an increasing number of legal conflicts between religious institutions and citizens who, for standard land-use and quality-of-life reasons -- such as congestion, noise or parking -- oppose the action the religious institution wants to take," said Professor Jerold S. Kayden, an urban planning expert at Harvard. "In this case the local community has been deprived of a standard tool that it can wield for virtually any other land use, and one has to ask why. Why should religion get this thumb on its side of the scale?" Professor Kayden is not involved in the lawsuit.

The neighbors also attack the reasoning that the law limits discrimination. They say in this case that discrimination has been largely absent. Belmont ward Bishop Grant Bennett, who's congregation meets in a chapel adjacent to the Temple site, says that while some anti-Mormon sentiment surfaced in the neighborhood meetings, it doesn't seem to be driving the neighbor's actions. "I think the feeling would be equally strong if this were a school or elderly housing."

But the neighbors remain realistic, saying that they doubt the Temple will be torn down. Their lawyer, Mark A. White, admits as much, "Do I think the court will make them tear the temple down? Doubtful."

Instead, the neighbors believe they are fighting for a principle, saying that the law is not fair, "If I owned this land, I couldn't build an Elks' lodge or a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall because places of assembly are not allowed in residential neighborhoods," said Charles Counselman, one of the neighbors that brought the suit. "But just because the temple was a religious institution, it was allowed."

But the precedent this decision could set is important to religions also. That is why other religions have joined the fight, filing friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the LDS Church. And for the LDS Church, with its extensive building of chapels as well as Temples, the stakes are also very immediate. It currently faces a similar fight over the site of the White Plains, New York Temple, in Harrison, N.Y., just north of New York City.

See Also:

Three Sue Over LDS Boston Temple Salt Lake Tribune (AP) 1Jan00 N1 By Rachel Malamud: Associated Press

Boston Temple is rising despite constitutional suit Deseret News (New York Times) 31Dec99 N1,1249,145015692,00.html By New York Times News Service


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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information