Court upholds Boston temple zoning case

WASHINGTON D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court, on Jan. 8, upheld a 50-year-old Massachusetts state law that allows construction of religious buildings in residential neighborhoods. The ruling brings to a close one of the two last major legal challenges to the construction of the Boston Massachusetts Temple.

"With the U.S. Supreme Court decision, all challenges to the Boston Temple, with the exception of the height of the steeple, are at an end," stated a press release issued by the Church after the ruling.

"We look forward to putting the legal issues behind us so the building can be used and appreciated for what it is — a house of worship."

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed in 1998 by opponents of the temple. The suit contended that the Massachusetts state law, known as the Dover Amendment, violated the Constitution's First Amendment ban on government establishment of religion.

Opponents said that the zoning exemptions of the Dover Amendment gave "enormous power and privilege to religious individuals and institutions to determine the characteristics of neighborhoods," reported an Associated Press article.

The court, however, turned down without comment the challenge by the opponents, sustaining the findings of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals that the law does not create favoritism toward religion, but represents "a secular judgment that religious institutions . . . are compatible with every other type of land use and thus will not detract from the quality of life in any neighborhood," according to Associated Press.

Opponents had said that if they won their case, possible remedies could include tearing down the temple and restoring vegetation to its original state, or requiring the Church to minimize traffic, noise and light on the temple grounds.

During the construction of the temple, local Church leaders met weekly with neighbors to hear their concerns, and in response created procedures to minimize noise and pollution. The Church also dimmed lighting on the temple so that light along the property boundaries is measured to be less than that in a movie theater aisle. An underground water storage was built to prevent any runoff from draining onto neighboring properties.

A separate lawsuit over the height of the steeple is ongoing. Oral arguments were expected to be heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Court on Jan. 12.

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