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U.S. Justice Department sues the city of Walnut

9/12/2010, 5 p.m.

WALNUT - The U.S. Justice Department has sued the city of Walnut, alleging it violated federal law when the city rejected a conditional use permit to build a Buddhist house of worship.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles alleges that until the Chung Tai Zen Center's application was denied in January 2008, Walnut had not turned down any application for a conditional use permit to build, expand or operate a house of worship for almost 30 years.

The complaint further alleges that Walnut treated the Zen Center differently than similarly situated religious and non-religious facilities.

For example, according to the complaint, in August 2008, the city approved a conditional use permit for a Catholic church that, when completed, will be larger than the Zen Center's proposed facility.

The government's complaint seeks a court order declaring that the actions of the city with respect to the Zen Center violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. The law prohibits religious discrimination in land use and zoning decisions.

"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 Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's civil rights division.

"No faith should be singled out for inferior treatment when it seeks to build a house of worship in compliance with local zoning laws,'' he said.

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.