The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled July 7 that MiaoLan Lee, co-founder of the Temple of 1 Buddhas in Fremont, California, must demolish her temple due to building code violations. According to the ruling, Lee is free to practice Buddhism anywhere on his property, but the religious nature of the building does not exempt him from building safety codes, which city officials say do not have were respected during the construction of the temple.
Lee, who purchased the 11,7-hectare property in 2010 on rural Mill Creek Road east of Fremont, soon began renovating buildings on the property and adding new structures. One of these buildings became the Temple of 1 Buddhas. In 001, city officials ordered him to remove several of the buildings, including the temple, a Hindu devotional house and four other structures, which they said posed a fire hazard, lacked waste treatment facilities proper sewage and violated other city rules.
Lee argued that the temple is only used for private worship and that the city discriminates against his religion. She accused Fremont Deputy Community Manager Wayne Morris of discriminatory comments in 2019 while working to obtain building permits.
According to Lee, Morris said she "used the Buddha as a protective shield" and asked her if she thought "Buddha is okay with building." (Chronicle of San Francisco)
Lee further claimed that Freemont city officials placed stricter restrictions on her and her land than on Caucasians in her area who told her they also built structures without permits on their own land. .
However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, comprised of Judges Eric Miller and Lucy Koh and U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn of Texas, temporarily assigned to the appeals court, said her allegations, even if they were proven, would not show that the city had acted in discrimination.
“To show religious discrimination, Lee must plausibly allege that (city officials) took enforcement action against her because of, and not just in spite of, the negative effect on her religious practice,” said the three-judge panel. They noted that Lee's lawsuit against the city "nowhere disputes outright that she built numerous structures without a permit, in violation of municipal code." Additionally, while some of Lee's neighbors had unlicensed buildings, "none had the size and scale" of the Buddhist temple and other structures that had been removed. (Chronicle of San Francisco)
Specifically, the judges upheld an earlier ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco, who said the order to remove the temple and other buildings did not interfere with Lee's right "to exercise his religion elsewhere on his property”. (Chronicle of San Francisco)
According to Lee's attorney, Angela Alioto, the decision could be appealed to the nation's highest court. "Civil rights are taking a serious blow in court and we must fight back, in the Supreme Court if need be," Alioto said. (Chronicle of San Francisco)
Under US law, Lee can file a petition for a "writ of certiorari," which asks the Supreme Court to reconsider the case. The Supreme Court is not, however, bound to grant the revision.
In notable recent cases, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of religious freedoms, in one case siding with a Sabbath-keeping mail carrier who left the U.S. Postal Service after being forced to work on Sunday, its holy day. . In another recent case, the court sided with an evangelical Christian web designer who refused to work for same-sex couples.