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Barbara O'Brien

Buddhist Builders Denied Permits

By February 22, 2011

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Awhile back I wrote about local resistance to the building of Buddhist temples. Well, there are a couple of new cases.

One is in Olathe, Kansas, population 92,962, located 20 miles southwest of downtown Kansas City. The Lao Buddhist Association, which has been part of the community of Olathe for 15 years, has outgrown its small temple and wants to build a new one. However, the county Board of Commissioners has denied a building permit to the group, saying the property they chose is zoned only for residencies.

Lama Changchup Kunchok Dorje -- a.k.a. Chuck Stanford -- of the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City says the refusal was pure discrimination. There are Christian churces in residential areas, he said. Whether there are other churches in the exact same neighborhood as the proposed temple, I do not know.

More than that, comments made at the public meeting about the building permit revealed some, um, confusion about the Buddhist group. One neighbor, for example, objected to all those Buddhist animal sacrifices. Yes, messy stuff. At least, there were no objections to the naked fire pujas (just kidding).

There was concern expressed about loud gongs, spirit worship, and the holding of excessive numbers of festivals. And one individual objected to calling the temple a "church," saying it was really only a "social club" because it wasn't Christian.

There are legitimate reasons to deny building permits, and these reasons involve such issues as traffic, water, and septic systems. However, the county Department of Planning, Development and Codes recommended approving the project, which suggests those sorts of issues had been addressed.

Further, the Interfaith Council of Greater Kansas City issued a statement, saying,

"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."

The Lao Buddhist Association has submitted a second, scaled-back plan to the Board of Commissioners.

Elsewhere -- I take it the Vietnamese Buddhist Meditation Congregation of Bonsall, California, has been trying since 2004 to get a permit to build a monastery that would house about 30 monks.  Bonsall is a small community in San Diego County. The site of the proposed facility is zoned for residences and agriculture.

It's not clear from news stories why the project has been held up for so long. During a recent public comment period, the county Department of Planning and Land Use received many more letters in favor of the project than against it.

Finally, an upate to the denial of a permit to build a Zen Center in Walnut, California, that I wrote about last year. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a discrimination suit against Walnut, alleging that Walnut violated the civil rights of the local Zen group. In January, a federal district judge denied Walnut's motion to dismiss the suit.

However,  the Walnut zennies, who have relocated to Pamona, have filed their own suit against Walnut, seeking to recover damages. They allege, for example, that the city's demand for multiple traffic studies placed an unreasonable financial burden on the Zen community.

February 22, 2011 at 8:30 pm
(1) Sonam Gyalpo says:

Om mani padme hum!
Tashi Delek!
Eight verses for training the mind teaches us that we should view these people as an excellant spiritual guide..but, really, how many guides does one being need!

Please pray for the speedy and joyful rebirth of Taktser Rinpoche’s son, HH Dalai Lama’s nephew and my friend, Jigme Norbu, who was killed on a walk to bring attention to the plight of the Tibetan people.
Bhod Rangzen

February 22, 2011 at 9:15 pm
(2) David says:

And here I thought it was only the Muslims who were the target of American religious bigotry these days. I am sorry to hear this, but I guess not surprised. We are well into an era of xenophobia, in which fears of social disintegration are projected onto whatever groups appear to be least like the mainstream. I suppose the Buddhist reponse would be to get out into these communities and have a veritable festival of right speech and right action. My hopes go with them.

February 23, 2011 at 9:02 am
(3) Barbara O'Brien says:

We are well into an era of xenophobia, in which fears of social disintegration are projected onto whatever groups appear to be least like the mainstream.

I grew up in a rural town in the Bible Belt, in the 1950s no less, and compared to that these scattered episodes of xenophobia seem fairly mild. I think 60 years ago in some of these same communities there would have been riots in the streets. Temples would have been torched and ethnic Asians forcibly marched out of the city limits. So while I don’t take these news stories lightly, neither am I all that alarmed about them. I’ve seen worse.

February 24, 2011 at 10:18 am
(4) Yeshe says:

This country was pluralistic before it was any kind of mainstream, since the times of colonisation. Even the puritans lived next to indian tribes. What about the africans who lived here since the 1600′s. Were they mainstream? And the europeans who took over were quite a motley bunch, not necessarily religious at all, though back then, as now, the evangelicals tried to claim that the country was all theirs. The founding fathers were intelligent, far-reaching thinkers when they esconsced religious tolerance into the founding of the us. It’s up to us to resist the forces of intolerant fundamentalism.

February 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm
(5) Barbara O'Brien says:

This country was pluralistic before it was any kind of mainstream

Well, sorta kinda. I’m an American history buff, FYI, and you have to be very careful about making assumptions of the old days. For the most part, the non-English Europeans who came here in the 18th and 19th centuries moved into enclaves of people from their own home countries and replicated the languages and cultures there. For a long time in the 19th century, in the upper Midwest there was more German spoken than English, for example. These groups often didn’t learn English and assimilate into whatever might be thought of as “American” culture until the second or third generation.

Also, white settlers and native Americans generally did not live peacefully near each other. You can find some examples of that happening, such as the puritans, but they were exceptions. There was one “Indian war” after another throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, coast to coast, until the last of the tribes was forced onto reservations.

Also, early American history is also the history of one religious movement after another. In the beginning, the original evangelicals (who differed considerably from contemporary ones) suffered blatant discrimination and oppression from the “old church” establishment. They were very much behind the movement to separate church and state, originally. What changed evangelicalism was the fundamentalist movement of the late 19th century, which rose up (in part) as a backlash to the progressive “social gospel” movement in which many evangelicals took part.

The first Buddhist temples in the U.S. were, of course, in California, built by Chinese and other Asian immigrants. Back in the 19th century, white men often thought it great fun to ride their horses into the temples and shoot up the altars. And, of course, for a while in the 19th century Asians were not given admittance to the U.S.

An interesting footnote to American history — while the Chinese Exclusion Act was in force, there was a young man born in California to ethnic Chinese parents named Wong Kim Art. He traveled to China a couple of times, and the second time he came back he was denied entry to the U.S. because he was Chinese. Wong Kim Ark claimed citizenship under the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment. The case went to the Supreme Court, and in 1898 the Court ruled that Wong Kim Ark was indeed a citizen because he had been born in California. “Birthright citizenship” has been the law of the land since, although currently right-wingers want to revoke it because of imagined perils of “anchor babies.”

February 24, 2011 at 4:48 pm
(6) Lisakay says:

As a Kansas City metro resident, the Olathe incident does not surprise me. The Nazarene College is in Olathe, and there are area ties to the IHOP Christian movement. Many of the people associated with the aforementioned groups preach against anyone who is not a Christian. ( or straight, white, etc.) While we do have many Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish houses of worship in our area, it still often behaves like “the bible belt!”

February 24, 2011 at 5:32 pm
(7) Andrew W says:

Well, as we all know, Christianity IS under ATTACK by liberalizing and progressive forces (read pinko Communists and terrorist sympathizers) and this is just another attempt, by Lao Buddhists this time, to dilute and weaken the peace, Christ and freedom loving residents of Olanthe. Next thing you know there will be mixed marriages and confused children not knowing whether to be afraid of God or in love with Buddha in the process. The decay of law and order is bound to follow with pimps and drug addicts on every street corner.
Maybe the good folks of Olanthe should go back to good old days of tarring and feathering with a few lynchings mixed in to help maintain civility and moral certitude.

February 24, 2011 at 5:47 pm
(8) Andrew W says:

I hope my tongue firmly planted in my cheek was not overlooked by those who may have taken offense in my last post.

February 24, 2011 at 8:12 pm
(9) John says:

Call me naive,but here it goes-
I just finished reading a book from HH The Dalai Lama- Although I have always respected His Holiness, I experienced something profound reading the words in this book- He speaks about compassion, forgiveness and minding our own spiritual ‘houses’ when we are faced with adversity from others who are acting as oppressors- I think that the events in Olanthe are actually an opportunity to show ‘Bible Belt’ persons what Buddhism is really about, and how those of us who do our best every day to live mindfully react to perceived injustice, without lowering ourselves to hatred and anger. Perhaps they may in some ironic sense get a glimpse of what ‘Jesus would do’.

February 25, 2011 at 3:35 am
(10) Andrew James says:

While I am not against Dalai Lama or others there are some things that have to be explained in detail
“Dear friend, look at the Buddhism of Japan today. It has degenerated into ceremonialism and has lost the essential truth of the teachings. As the situation continues, Buddhism will vanish from Japan. Something needs to be done and you should spread real Buddhism there. You can do that well, because you have the mind of a Buddha. If you do so, I shall be very pleased. It will help me with my mission” Dalai Lama to Shoko Asahara
Shoko Asahara- Shoko Asahara is the founder and central figure of the organization Aum Shinri-kyo (Aum Supreme Truth), the radical religious group who used poison gas in 1994 and 1995 to commit mass murder in Japan
Dalai Lama Himself Leads a extremely divided and fighting for supremacy group in Dharamsala . Why did he not spread Bhuddhism in India since the past 50 years? Where hardly 0.5% are Buddhists and almost 90% are Buddhism’s mother religion Hinduism.
Bending rule books and justifying it under some guise of different sect in religion to suit your needs is not correct.
While Buddhism advocated vegetarianism even if it is justified that Tibet is cold region what about those Tibetans who are in India? They eat meat daily.
Deeply mixing religion with politics is not at all good practice.

February 25, 2011 at 6:33 am
(11) Andrew Scott says:

Hinduism is “Buddhism’s mother religion”? Yes, in the same way that the Steady State theory is mother to the Big Bang theory.

February 25, 2011 at 8:36 am
(12) Barbara O'Brien says:

Andrew James — this comment is way off topic and, frankly, barely coherent. Please limit yourself to the topic at hand in the future or your comments will be deleted.

March 21, 2011 at 11:46 pm
(13) Edith says:

It is unbelievable how discriminating people can get. I have a bumper sticker that say’s FREEDOM OF RELIGION MEANS ANY RELIGION. I believe they are doing this because they are budhist, too. And the crock about them having sacrifices, THEY ARE VEGINS, WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT PICTURE. I work for Bhudists, and that IS SO WRONG. Christians just love to lie about other religions to be able to con people into their religion. They say the same about Wicca’s, and they are vegetarians. I am begginning to wonder if they are against them because of them being another religion or because they are vegins, and vegetarians.

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