BOSTON, Mass. — A unanimous ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court May 16 ended a lengthy debate about the height of the Boston temple and paves the way for the Church to complete construction of a steeple.
"The Church applauds the decision of the [Massachusetts] Supreme Judicial Court," said Dale Bills, Church spokesman. "The Court's decision truly reflects the religious freedom that has been long cherished in New England. In clearing the way for the Church to mount a single spire on the building, the Court has ratified and affirmed the earlier judgments of those who are best able to make such decisions on behalf of the community."
The dispute hinged on whether the steeple was critical to the religious purposes of the temple.
A local governing board in Belmont, Mass., where the temple is located, originally approved the steeple stating that the state's Dover Amendment granted religious edifices exemption from local zoning restrictions.
The U.S. Supreme Court also upheld the Dover Amendment in January by saying that it did not grant unconstitutional advantages to religious groups.
But several vocal opponents of the temple, who live nearby in an upscale neighborhood, contended that the steeple was not necessary for worship and that it should not be allowed to exceed zoning laws.
Their argument prevailed with an trial court judge last year who said the steeple was not a "necessary element of the Mormon religion."
But in its May 16th ruling, the state's highest court unanimously disagreed. Writing for the court, Chief Justice Margaret Marshall rejected the decision of the trial court in a 17-page opinion saying that "it is not for judges to determine whether the inclusion of a particular architectural feature is 'necessary' for a particular religion."
"The steeple we really believe, is an integral part of the symbolism of the building," said Grant Bennett, a member of a stake presidency in Boston, quoted by Associated Press as he responded to inquiries from the local media.
The ruling effectively ends the case, Brother Bennett said. Construction of the steeple will begin soon and should be completed this summer. The Church plans to construct the steeple with minimal impact on the neighborhood.
The stately 70,000-square-foot Boston temple was dedicated without a steeple on Oct. 1, 2000 by President Gordon B. Hinckley.