(CN) – The Justice Department on Monday sued the Los Angeles suburb of Walnut, claiming it violated religious discrimination laws by denying a conditional use permit to build a Buddhist temple.
The federal lawsuit claims that until the city denied the Chung Tai Zen Center’s application in January 2008, it had not rejected any application for a conditional use permit to build a house of worship since at least 1980.
“Religious freedom is among our most cherished rights, and our nation’s laws prohibit cities and towns from discriminating based on religion when they make zoning decisions related to houses of worship,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez. “No faith should be singled out for inferior treatment when it seeks to build a house of worship in compliance with local zoning laws.”
Walnut officials treated the Zen Center differently than similarly situated religious and non-religious facilities, the lawsuit states, adding that in August 2008, the city approved a conditional use permit for a Catholic church that will be larger than the Zen Center’s proposed facility.
The complaint also alleges that between 1998 and 2003, the city built a civic center complex two blocks from Zen Center’s former location in Walnut.
The government’s wants a court order declaring the city’s actions violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. The lawsuit also seeks an injunction to prohibit the city from discriminating against the Zen Center and other religious entities and institutions that seek to operate in Walnut.