After an arduous legal battle, a Universal Life Church minister has been denied a permit for a “Goddess Temple” on property he owns in Chico, California. The Butte County Board of Supervisors ruled against granting the permit in a 3-2 decision, citing complaints from neighbors and raising important questions about where religious liberty ends and religious imposition begins. We are curious to know what our online ministers think. Is this a bad precedent for people who want to be a pastor and start their own church or temple?
The Board arrived at its decision on Tuesday, 31 July, after a public meeting during which the Board listened to three hours of public commentary. Rev. Robert Seals, the ULC minister who runs the temple, was denied the permit by the county Planning Commission back in May, but appealed the decision to the Board. At the meeting, both sides voiced their concerns over the issue, with opponents of the temple arguing that it has created an unacceptable degree of noise on neighboring properties and supporters arguing that Seals has the constitutional right to practice his religion freely, without restriction. Many who have chosen to be a pastor in the ULC understand this dilemma: we have to walk the tightrope between freedom and imposition.
On one hand is the pro-temple argument, which cites religious freedom in defense of Seals and his temple compound. “This county will be really embarrassed when they see the repercussions of this one; this will be national news,” said Seals after the ruling, adding that “[the Board] just denied a religious facility. That’s against the law, especially when we’re standing here saying we will comply in every way.” Indeed, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Religious Restoration Act make it difficult to restrict the free exercise of religion, and online ministers in the Universal Life Church cherish this freedom.
On the other hand, neighbors are concerned over the impact of the Goddess Temple on the local community. Supervisor Larry Wahl motioned to deny the permit, echoing the sentiments of many local residents: “It would be ludicrous to give this outfit permission to do what they want to do,” he said, “in addition to the fact that they’re depriving their neighbors of their quiet enjoyment of their own property in a residential neighborhood.” Surely those who decide to be a pastor in the ULC can appreciate this viewpoint also. While we should be able to practice our religion freely, we should also be able to live in peace freely.
It is easy to sympathize with Rev. Seals over the loss of his Goddess Temple. Religious freedom is vital, but it is not absolute; it must be balanced with other freedoms, such as the freedom to live in peace, comfort, and happiness. As online ministers in the Universal Life Church, we need to strike a balance between the two, and sometimes this means compromise. Hopefully Rev. Seals will be able to arrive at a compromise with local authorities and, at the very least, keep a modified version of his temple.