Arkansas high court hears Buddhist temple case

BY JIM BROOKS,, February 29, 2008

Fort Smith, Arkansas (USA) -- A dispute over control of a Buddhist temple was the subject of oral arguments Thursday in the state Supreme Court, one issue being who should have been allowed to vote in an election in which rival groups sought the Wat Buddha Samakitham temple in Fort Smith.

An attorney for one group argued that a circuit judge had improperly intervened in ecclesiastical law when he accepted a membership list put forward by one of the parties. An attorney for the other side said membership was a factual issue for the judge to decide.

Circuit Judge James Marschewski allowed attorneys for both sides to provide lists of people who would be allowed to vote for seven directors who would run the temple.

Attorney James Dunn told the justices. “The issue is whether the state can determine who the members are, and in this case the judge constructed a voter list based on a list provided by the appellants. If your name was not on the artificial list, you didn’t get to vote.”

But Brian Meadors, the attorney for the other group, argued that “membership was a question of fact for the judge to determine,” saying the court relied on “neutral principles” to adopt the list and didn’t delve into matters of religion. “The court didn’t go in and try to determine who was more Buddhist,” he said.

The court usually gives its decision within a few weeks of oral arguments.