May 24, 2012 Statement
The Zen Center would like to announce that after much hard work and effort the Zen Center and City of Walnut have worked together and reached a harmonious end to the lawsuit filed by the Center for religious discrimination and for substantially burdening the Center’s free exercise of religion.
The agreement reached by the parties provides for significant non-monetary relief for the Zen Center, as well as for it to receive monetary compensation which represents a portion of the out of pocket costs incurred in applying for the conditional use permit (CUP) in Walnut, and the subsequent move to Pomona.
Under the terms of the agreement, the City of Walnut has issued an apology to the Zen Center for the denial of its CUP, and has agreed to further training regarding religious land use, and to engage the use of a consultant to advise on permit applications pertaining to land use by religious institutions. We are hopeful that ongoing training and consultants will contribute to Walnut’s understanding of religious land use issues and their responsibility to practice religious tolerance and respect.
The Zen Center will receive $200,000 of the settlement funds. As stated from the beginning, the portion of the settlement funds received by the Zen Center will be entirely donated for charitable, religious tolerance and religious freedom purposes. The rest of the settlement funds will pay the Zen Center’s legal fees and costs related to bringing the lawsuit. The Zen Center chose to settle its claims against the City of Walnut for only a portion of its out of pocket expenses in exchange for the significant non-monetary relief that it was able to obtain through the settlement.
The Zen Center’s decision to file its lawsuit against the City of Walnut came only after serious reflection and deliberation. The Zen Center’s goal in bringing this lawsuit was not about money. The Center is grateful to have recovered some of the money spent trying to get the CUP in Walnut, and we are hopeful that this lawsuit will serve as a reminder to the City that it must treat all religions fairly and equally. To the Center, the apology, continued training, and use of a consultant by the City in future land use applications by religious institutions, are even more important than the monetary relief. The Center filed this lawsuit because we believed that it was necessary to protect religious freedom for all individuals and religious institutions. We are hopeful that through this lawsuit, we have helped to bring us all one step closer to equality and justice for all religions.
The Zen Center would like to thank its attorneys at Litt, Estuar & Kitson, and Bet Tzedek Legal Services as well as the representatives of the City of Walnut for their time and efforts to address and remedy the important issues in this case. The Zen Center would also like to extend its appreciation to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division for conducting a thorough investigation, and for bringing the initial suit.