Judge allows Buddhists to pray, but not live in disputed building

Associated Press, Aug 31, 2006

SANTA ANA, Calif. (USA) -- Members of a Vietnamese Buddhist temple may temporarily hold religious services at a medical building despite the city of Garden Grove's objections over traffic and noise, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney made the temporary compromise Wednesday and asked both sides to forge an agreement on how the Buddhists can use the building they already own. If no agreement is reached by Friday, Carney said he'll set a hearing on the temple's request for an injunction to stop the city from enforcing its zoning laws.

An attorney for the city, Lois Bobak, said she doesn't object to negotiating with the plaintiffs, but stressed that the city would not allow leaders of the Quan Am Temple to live on the property.

This month the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of the temple, alleging city leaders had violated its constitutional rights by barring assemblies at the building.

The temple bought the building on 1.8 acres using a $1.95 million loan from a worshipper, but the city repeatedly refused to adjust its zoning code so that a religious institution can be built on the plot, the lawsuit said.

The city rejected the request after neighbors complained.

The temple began in 1999 with a few members but outgrew its one-story building by 2003, according to the complaint. A typical weekend service could draw up to 100 members, and there could be up to 350 on special occasions, but those are usually held at another location, said the temple's attorney, Belinda Helzer.