WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 (AP) - Opponents of a large new Mormon temple near Boston lost a Supreme Court challenge Monday to a Massachusetts zoning law they said gives unconstitutional advantages to religious groups.

The court, without comment, turned down the opponents' argument that the zoning law violates the Constitution's ban on government establishment of religion.

The 1950 state law says zoning ordinances cannot ban the construction of buildings for religious uses in any zoning area, although they can set requirements for size, height, parking and open space on a lot.

The law was challenged in 1998 after the Mormon church started construction on a new $30 million temple in Belmont, a suburb of Boston. The 69,000-square-foot structure, on a hilltop surrounded by private homes, has been completed and was dedicated on Oct. 1.

The opponents said the state law violates the Constitution's First Amendment ban on government establishment of religion. A separate lawsuit over the height of the temple's planned 139-foot steeple is ongoing.

A federal judge and the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law.

The law does not create favoritism toward religion, the appeals court said last May, 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.''

In the appeal acted on Monday, lawyers for the temple's opponents said the zoning exemption gave ``enormous power and privilege to religious individuals and institutions to determine the characteristics of neighborhoods.''

The opponents said that if they won their case, possible remedies could include tearing down the temple or requiring the church to minimize traffic, noise and light at the temple.

Lawyers for the Belmont building inspector said the law does not benefit only religious uses of land, but also non-religious uses such as schools, child care centers and agriculture. They also said the restrictions on building height and size mean religious groups ``cannot simply build whatever they want regardless of the impact on neighbors.''

The case is Boyajian v. Gatzunis, 00-452.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus