MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – A controversial plan to build a Buddhist meditation center in a residential neighborhood has new life after a federal appeals court ruling this week.
A federal judge in Mobile had ruled against the Thai Meditation Association of Alabama in a lawsuit challenging Mobile’s decision to deny a zoning change to allow the facility. But the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has sent part of the case back to Mobile with instructions for the judge to consider the issues under a different legal standard.
“We’re very grateful for the decision the appeals court understanding the important nature of the right to religious freedom,” said Roman Storzer, an attorney for the association.
Doug Anderson, an attorney representing the city, focused on the issues the defendants prevailed on.
“All the issues that were litigated in court, we won,” he said. “We were certainly pleased the trial part of the case was upheld on appeal. We felt very strongly that that was going to happen.”
At issue are three issues that U.S. District Judge Terry Moorer threw out before the trial: the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act; the First Amendment’s free exercise clause; and and the Religious Freedom Amendment to the Alabama constitution.
The association, which currently operates out of strip mall, had wanted to relocate to a quieter location more conducive to its mission. But its request for a zoning change drew fierce opposition from area residents. Many of them focused on concerns such as increased traffic. But as the appeals court ruling notes, some made comment publicly about not wanting a Buddhist organization in their neighborhood.
Anderson the case is on relatively new ground. He said there is very little case law on point, especially on the specific wording of Alabama’s religious freedom amendment. He said the case could ultimately set a precedent for future disputes.