Buddhist monks continue to seek the right to worship at home

by Kay Young, WAVY.com, Aug 28, 2007

Virginia Beach, VA (USA) -- "In today's world there are more and more churches that are using homes as places for Bible study and worship," according to Michael Palmer, Regent University's Dean of Divinity. Palmer says people of all faiths should pay attention to what's happening with the Buddhists who live on West Neck Road in Virginia Beach. He says, "the fact is, everybody will be effected."

The city planning commission denied the Buddhist monk's application for a conditional use permit that would have allowed them to invite others to worship with them once a week. Neighbors protested citing traffic as a primary complaint near the home in the Pungo section of Virginia Beach. But city staffers who studied the situation decided there really wasn't a traffic or parking problem on the property. Still the permit was denied.

Virginia Beach Deputy City Attorney William Macali says, the permit requirement is not exclusive to Buddhists.

"Whether it's a church, a Buddhist temple, synagogue, mosque any religious use, needs a conditional use permit," Macali says.

The ordinance has actually been on the books since the 1970's. And Macali says there's no need for alarm, since the 1970's enforcement has been discretionary. He say permits are not ALWAYS required.

For example, "if I wanted to have people over every week to read the Bible, things like that, I don't think so. But if regular services are conducted, and it would be things like frequency and intensity. It's a very gray area," according to Macali.

Palmer notes that local governments often use discretion in allowing permits. "If something is a problem, they administer the law. If it isn't, they tend to overlook it. But of course, this may deserve some closer look," Palmer says.