Feds to probe city's treatment of Buddhist temple

By DEEPA BHARATH, The Orange County Register, February 1, 2007

The U.S. Department of Justice is looking into whether the city of Garden Grove violated a federal act in its dealings with a local Buddhist temple

Garden Grove, CA (USA) -- The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a civil rights investigation of the city in connection with a lawsuit filed last year by a Buddhist temple challenging the constitutionality of the city's zoning code, officials said today.

City Attorney Thomas Nixon said he received a letter today from the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., informing him that the investigation will look into the application of a federal law concerning land use and religion as it relates to the Quan Am Buddhist temple on Chapman Avenue.

"We will cooperate with federal authorities fully in their investigation," Nixon said.

U.S. Department of Justice officials could not be reached for comment today.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of the temple in August questioning the fairness of the city's zoning code. The Planning Commission and City Council have denied requests by the temple to rezone its property from "office or professional" to "residential."

ACLU attorney Belinda Helzer said news of the investigation "is encouraging."

"What they are looking into is part of our complaint," she said.

Nixon said the city has always treated applications from all religious entities fairly and equally.

"And I'm confident that the federal investigation will support that," he said.

A federal judge in September granted the temple a temporary restraining order allowing members to conduct limited services at the facility until the lawsuit is resolved.

The civil case is set to go to trial Oct. 2, Helzer said.