MiaoLan Lee, co-founder of the Temple of 1001 Buddhas in Fremont, California, claims that city officials are discriminating against her based on her religion, gender, and race. Lee built the temple and several adjoining structures on her 11.7-hectare property in the foothills near the city over the last 10 or so years. Now the city is asking her to remove several of the buildings including the temple, a Hindu god house, and four other structures.
City officials say that Lee constructed the temple and surrounding buildings without proper permits. In a statement to local media, the city outlined its investigation and findings about the temple:
After an investigation that lasted several months and included multiple inspections with other government agencies, including the State Water Board and Alameda County Environmental Health, the City determined that multiple buildings had been constructed without building permits and in violation of City zoning regulations. (NBC Bay Area)
However, Lee’s lawyer, Tal Finney, has claimed that Lee has filed paperwork repeatedly with the city to ensure the legality of her temple’s buildings. “Our client began permitting in 2011–14 and has been trying to get permits ever since,” said Finney. “And the city has been obstructionist about granting permits.” (NBC Bay Area)
Further, Lee said that the city was utilizing intimidation techniques including multiple searches of her home. “In my life, I’ve never had a police officer come on me, I’ve never had a K9 looking at me,” said Lee, recalling one of the searches. (ABC 7 News)
According to Lee and her legal team, the reason for the disagreement is rooted in discrimination: “Why are they doing that to me? It’s because I am Asian, a religious woman and they don’t want a temple here,” said Lee. (NBC Bay Area)
Prominent civil rights attorney Angela Alioto has also joined Lee’s legal team and is preparing to file a federal lawsuit next month on Lee’s behalf. “This woman is one of the most magnificent people I have ever met,” said Alioto. “She just wants to pray.” (ABC 7 News)
Alioto added: “Because she is an Asian, who is a religious woman building a temple to Buddha, she is being discriminated against.” (NBC Bay Area)
Fremont officials told local media that it was disheartening to learn about the potential civil claim against the city, adding: “Safety is one of the highest priorities for the City and some of the violations pose a direct danger to the environment. The City has been diligently working with the property owner to remedy the violations.” (ABC 7 News)
A hearing will take place on 18 May to determine the next steps that the city will take, which could include demolishing the structures. Meanwhile, Alioto plans to file her federal lawsuit on 16 June, following a required 45-day notification period.
As she deals with the situation, Lee returns to her religion, saying: “If I hadn’t gone through this, I would never understand what the whole world is suffering about. Every one of us suffers.” (ABC 7 News)
Buddhist Temple Takes on Fremont Over Unpermitted Buildings (NBC Bay Area)
Buddhist temple co-founder files discrimination claim against City of Fremont (ABC 7 News)
She spent millions to build ‘cultural work of art’ Now she says Fremont wants it torn down (Mercury News)