Update: (3/25/11) Johnson Co. Commissioners moved to Remand Application of Buddhist Temple back to the township zoning board ~ The dance continues! view video here.
Basically several members of the rural community where the temple is proposed to be built spoke up about their concerns last night. Unlike previous incarnations of this issue, no statements about animal sacrifices or baying at the moon were included. In fact, most anti-temple folk were well-rehearsed with the specific zoning laws that would keep the Buddhists out of their community. Most comments revolved around the “disharmony” that the temple would bring to their area as well as resulting plummet of real-estate value. Additional concerns about the depression it could cause local farm animals, road issues, social psychological elements of the Buddhist Association’s argument, pollution run-off and the potential crime that it could bring were also brought up.
Supporters of the temple were largely sappy and emotional with comments about the love of Buddhists towards nature and their neighbors. Hardly convincing if I were sitting on the Board of Commissioners.
A highlight of the night’s comments came from Rev Buddy Love from a local Baptist church. The good Reverend welcomed the new temple and commented about his experience with the community there when his family moved in 20+ years ago. They were refused the right to purchase the house over a white family. Then when he moved his predominately African American congregation there he had to apply twice as his church was thought to be “disharmonious” as well. Comments on the pro-temple side also came from a local man who lived near a Laotian temple while staying Texas and described it as a “Jewel of the Area.”
By and large what I heard was privilege. The privilege of the local community to pick and choose who had a right to build and worship in their area. A privilege we do not have when it effects the civil liberties of others. Fifteen churches in the last 20+ years were build in Johnson County according to what I heard last night and the only objections were levied towards one that was had a largely African American congregation and another that was Asian American.
White Privilege and racial/religious discrimination does not come in a fury of angry voices. It is cold, logical and well-rehearsed. It is the application of an undue burden placed upon certain groups while not on others. The Commission brought this forward in their conversation and I believe it is what they debated the most. Was the burden placed on the Buddhist temple and the Laotian congregation the same standard they set towards the 15 other churches in the area. We can’t hold a magnifying glass over one class, race or grouping of people without applying it uniformly towards the rest.
Telling was the fact that not one of the opponents compared the building of the temple to any other religious body in the neighborhood. They compared it to a Florist Shop, a corporate retreat, and even a McDonald’s. They made the temple into a commercial body so that a certain criteria (the “Golden Criteria”) could be kept that keeps residential areas separate from commercial ones. Again a standard not expected of the many Christian churches in the area, with the possible exception of Rev Buddy Love’s Baptist church.
One lady put it out there last night when she stated that the community’s largest fear was change. Ironically the very thing the Buddhist temple could help them with. In the end the Johnson County Commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of the temple and remanded back to the zoning board to reconsider. The revised plan does not include a 9.600-square-foot worship hall, a separate Buddha temple or a ceremonial gateway. I sincerely wish the best for the community of Johnson County and their new temple.
I think in time the residents there will grow to love the addition of a temple to their community.
The Lao Buddhist Association of Olathe will be asking the Johnson County Commission Thursday night to allow temple’s move from Olathe to Johnson County. Their will be a public hearing on the issue.
To sum up the situation: The Lao Buddhist Association of Olathe’s temple has been located within Olathe since 1997 but due to increased patronage, they are busting at the seams. The plan, as presented by the Buddhist Association, is to move to a 14-acre plot outside of Olathe, to a zone where churches need conditional-use permits.
The Northwest Consolidated Zoning Board voted unanimously to denial the permit on Jan. 24. At the meeting tonight, county commissioners will vote to allow or deny the permit. If allowed it will return it to the zoning board for further consideration. Historically, as in the examples listed above, most successful appeals from Buddhist temples or associations to meet their needs require action from the state level before their concerns are heard and given equal consideration. View it online
“Our community is threatened when any faith is misrepresented….We also understand that two plans for the use of the property have been approved by the professional staff of the county, that all similar plans and purchases in similar neighborhoods have always been approved for over a dozen Christian institutions, but that unfavorable sentiments expressed by some of the neighbors indicate that they may not be accurately informed about the Buddhist faith, appear to ignore our American tradition of religious liberty and may damage the interfaith civility the council seeks to assure for all who live in the metro area.”
OLATHE, KANSAS — A Johnson County Buddhist church has outgrown its building, and they have a new place to worship picked out. But so far they have been denied the right to use it, and a metro Buddhist leader says that zoning isn’t the reason why they can’t move in.
The Lao-Buddhist Association is trying to move its Olathe temple to a location along 119th Street in Olathe. But the Johnson County Board of Commissioners has so far denied the group a conditional use permit. Neighbors say that the area the Buddhists have chosen is zoned residential, but Lama Chuck Stanford of the Rime Buddhist Center says that discrimination is the real reason behind the opposition.
“This is clearly just ugliness of ethnic and religious prejudice,” said Stanford.
Neighbors, who refused to go on camera, told FOX 4 that being opposed to the Buddhist temple doesn’t make him a bigot, while another neighbor told FOX 4 that other commercial proposals in the neighborhood have been declined as well.
Standord notes that Christian churches are common in residential areas, and that comments made by residents during a January zoning board meeting indicate fear and ignorance. At the meeting, people raised concerns about traffic, water pollution and “animal sacrifices,” along with noise from gongs, which Stanford says are no louder than church bells.
“I’m so shocked that this year, in 2011, in Johnson County, their people would be a little more liberal, and better educated, than that,” said Stanford.
The Johnson County Department of Planning, Development and Codes has recommended approval of the Buddhist’s permit. But the Northwest Consolidated Zoning Board voted unanimously to recommend denial of the request.
The Lao-Buddhist Association has submitted a second, scaled-back plan to the board, but neighbors say that if it is passed it will open the door for other commercial properties in the area. The Board of Commissioners will take up the issue next Thursday night.
Welcome to America! Where you are free to practice any religion as long as it is Christian. If it isn’t, we just don’t want to have it in our backyard. If you persist we will be sure to hide behind zoning laws and obscure regulations (not enough parking, statue too large, animal sacrifices, don’t want tourists visiting) that have been waived for other “proper” churches. Maybe the good people of Olathe should hang out with the the Buddhist community of Utica, NY or Walnut, Ca. for similar lessons. I live in a residential area here in Rapid City and am flanked by churches, at least 10 in a 4 square block radius. I don’t mind as people need to have a place to practice but I am confused why that right is dictated by religion or ethnic/racial differences.
A few other examples of zoning law discrimination towards Buddhist Centers:
- Berkeley Thai Buddhist temple ~ Asian Pacific Americans for Progress
- Vietnamese Buddhist Temple (Lansing, MI) ~ The State News
- Bat Nha Meditation Institute (Los Angeles, CA) ~ LA Times
- Yuan Yung Retreat Center (Rowland Hieghts, CA) ~ Buddhist Channel
- Dau Trang Minh Dang Quang Temple (Utica, NY) ~ WickedLocal
- Cambodian Buddhist Society of Connecticut (Newtown, Conn.) ~ The Newtown Bee
- Aram Buddhist Temple (Olive Township, MI) ~ The Holland Sentinel
- Chung Tai Zen Center (Walnut, CA) ~ God Discussion
- Dai Dang Monastery (Camino del Rey, CA) ~ North County Times
- Tam-Bao Buddhist Temple (Tusle, OK) ~ Tulsa World
- Virginia Beach Temple (Virginia Beach, VA) ~ Hampton Roads
- Homeless Vietnamese Zen group (Jackson, Miss) ~ Wildmind Blog
So, one things stands out. All of these issues brought up by citizens were with primarily Asian American sanghas. I could not find one single convert, predominately non-Asian temple or Zen Center that were hit with the same road-blocks. Granted my search was not by any means definitive but it does show a general trend ~ That zoning laws are used as a racist vehicle against Asian American Buddhist communities.