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
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.
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
By New York Times News Service