September 25, 2011

Buddhists, racism & the selective application of local ordinances.

In 2010, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit alleging that Walnut had treated the Zen center’s application differently from other building proposals, ordering repeated traffic studies even after the first showed the center would have little impact. According to the suit, the city had not denied a conditional use permit for a house of worship since at least 1980. [LA Times]

Here we go again. The application for a new Ch’an Center was denied but, at the same time, the commission granted a permit for a Catholic church larger than the proposed monastery. In Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948), the United States Supreme Court held that courts could not enforce racial covenants on real estate. Which is exactly what is occuring in this instance.

wrote about the issues in Walnut previously. In light of other similar events a disturbing trend emerges:
  1. The same type of incident occurred in Olathe, Kansas with a Laotian sangha refused a building permit
  2. Another in Utica, NY about a Vietnamese sangha that was refused the same rights afforded to other religious groups in the same town.
  3. Also action was taken in Garden Grove, California after the city denied the Vietnamese Buddhism Study Temple a zoning permit to operate in the city’s business district.
  4. A Cambodian Buddhist Study Center was denied and denied in appeal at the State Supreme Court level in a bid to build a temple on 10 acres of land in Newtown, Connecticut.
  5. A Thai Budhist temple was denied expansion in Spalding County, Georgia with the commisioners reaffirming their decision by stating that the “right to worship” has not been denied but evidentally their congregation is not allowed any amount of growth.

Each instance was a case for religious discrimination and the selective application of zoning laws to keep a largely Asian and/or immigrant Buddhist center from being built or relocated. There is also an instance of the Ming Ya Buddhist Temple being denied in Lincoln Heights, however, I can not find much information on this case so can’t speak directly about whether the land ordinance is universally applied equally to all racial/religious groups. Every denial is not linked to racism but each of these instances should be examined due to the emerging pattern of discrimination.

In the case of Olathe, a mega-church was built not too far away from the proposed center with concerned citizens concerned about monks performing animal sacrifices and noise. Most compelling was that the center would interfere with the residents’ perception of the “American Dream.”

In Utica, it was a statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion that was too tall according to ordinances but yet still not as tall as a statue of the Virgin Mary at a local Catholic Church.

In Newtown, the commisioners stated that the “Asian architecture would have a negative impact on property values and was not in harmony with the area’s traditional New England architecture.”

And now we rehash the issue in Walnut. Beyond the religious discrimination that is obvious in these cases, each Buddhist Center that appealed for larger accommodation are primarily Asian sanghas. From Chinese to Laotian to Vietnamese the message is simple. They are not wanted in many communities due to the nature of their race, culture and religious practice.

God Bless America!

Before everyone jumps on my ass with appeals that the communities are not all that bad and have the best intentions at heart (just look at how wonderful the community in Utica was towards the local muslim community!) I still affirm that it is far too little and immigrant Buddhist sanghas seem predisposed towards this sort of selective application of ordinance and the communities support it or, at very least, are willing to be silent in their disagreement.

One particular instance that this was not true was with the Reverend Bobby Love that spoke up in protest about the actions of Johnson County [The video is over an hour long but worth watching to hear how ridiculous most of the complaints are and how little support the Laoist Buddhists received] in relation to the proposed Laoist temple. He spoke of his personal experience in moving his largely African American congregation to the same region in the 1980’s and recall the same sort of complaint.

Each of these communities need more people like Rev. Bobby Love to speak up on behalf of injustice. I am not the most comfortable with priviledge as an argument: However, from these examples, privilege and racial/religious discrimination does not necessarily come in a fury of angry voices, drama or violence. It is a cold, logical and well-rehearsed application of an undue burden placed upon certain groups while not on others. Listen to each of the verbal bullet points expressed by the citizens of Olathe, Kansas. It is cold, precise and well leveraged discrimination.

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