One of the precious aspects of the First Amendment is its sweeping protection to worship a higher power as you see fit so long as your religious practices are nonviolent and don’t undermine legitimate laws that promote public safety.
Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, Sunnis, Shiites, Hasidic Jews and Hindus all have an equal right to pursue their faiths including, by implication, the right to build places of worship with the lowest possible levels of government interference. In 2000, Congress further explained this protection with the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (or RLUPIA). Federal lawmakers made it clear that states, counties and cities can’t use zoning rules or land-use ordinances to discriminate against churches or to impose a substantial burden on religious practices. Essentially, local governments face a incredibly tough standard in trying to block the buildings of any religious group.
This federal law will be a central issue as Chandler considers the request for a conditional use permit from the Sri Venkata Krishna congregation to build a Hindu temple near Dobson and Galveston roads.
Tribune writer Chris Markham reported Wednesday that a neighborhood meeting to discuss the future temple attracted opposition from some neighbors who claim a place of worship would clash their milliondollar homes and horse properties.
Of course, if these neighbors wanted veto power over what goes on to this acre of land, they should have purchased it themselves. But they apparently are claiming the Hindu temple would be an inappropriate use in the nearly 80-year-old residential area. Their notion conflicts with 200 years of American history that has demonstrated churches are among the most acceptable uses to nestle next to homes.
A possible exception to this is when a church grows so big that its constant activities and worshipping traffic rival a large retail store. But that’s certainly wouldn’t apply in Chandler’s case, as the Hindu temple would only cover 7,500 square feet and would serve an average of 30 to 40 families.
“Denying the rights of a religious institution based on neighborhood opposition alone almost certainly would violate the Constitution and RLUPIA,” Jeremy Tedesco, staff counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, told us.
Tedesco has plenty of familiarity with the federal law as the attorney suing the city of Scottsdale on behalf of SonRise Community Church for the denial of a conditional use permit to build a grade school. That city has claimed the proposed school isn’t necessary to the church’s religious purpose and would bring too much congestion to north Scottsdale Road. But Tedesco said Scottsdale will have a hard time winning over a judge when the city approved a similar-sized charter school less a mile away under the same zoning regulations.
Conditional use permits are a vehicle for governments to reduce the most likely negative impacts of a new development. But it’s unethical and illegal to withhold conditional use permits in order to thwart the legitimate use of private property.
Add in the federal protections of RLUPIA, and we suggest that residents near Dobson and Galveston roads should get comfortable with the idea of a small Hindu temple in their neighborhood.