On the day after election day, the city of Cambridge will decide whether to continue, or deny, a certificate of occupancy to the Cambridge Buddhist Association (CBA).
Maurine Freedgood, president of the CBA, said yesterday the group is going to court "to defend our constitutional rights." She said the ordinances barring the Buddhists from holding religious ceremonies at their house at 75 Sparks Street that the City Council passed this summer are unconstitutional because they discriminate on the basis of religion.
The council passed the ordinances after receiving a citizen petition. "We felt that it was changing the character of the neighborhood," Joanna Scott one of the petition's signers, said yesterday. "That house was previously a one-family home in a single-family neighborhood."
But Freedgood said there were other complaints. "Several of our neighbors became upset about Buddhists chanting and running around in strange costumes. I don't think they were justified," she said.
Freedgood added that Episcopalians, Quakers, Mormons and other religious groups already own property in the area. In fact, the CBA itself has owned houses only a few blocks away from its present location for 22 years. "Nobody ever
Until the city grants the occupancy permits, the group will hold only three 40-minute meditation periods a day, usually involving ten people at a time, Dennis J. Lennox, the group's sexton and the only person now living in the house, said yesterday. The CBA has not scheduled ceremonies and hasn't been able to move its library, he added.
The 15-room house is the first the CBA has owned in its own name. The group will make in lieu of tax payments instead of regular Cambridge levies.
"The tax issue was just an excuse. They should pick on the big institutions, not just bug on the leaf like us," Freedgood said.
For the past 22 years the CBA has held its meetings on the first floof of homes owned by Mr. and Mrs. John Mitchell.
"Two of the abutters are happy to see us move in. They did everything they could to dissuade them (other neighbors) from bothering us," Elsie P. Mitchell said yesterday.
Mitchell said people often won't sell real estate to religious associations. "You would expect Cambridge to be a place where there can be cultural and religious diversity, but I guess that isn't so," she said.
Mitchell added that question number 4 of Cambridge's November referendum, barring further exemptions for traditionally tax-exempt institutions buying real estate in Cambridge, is aimed at driving small religious groups out of the city.
People will interpret the question as an attempt to restrict Harvard expansion, she added. "They'll get an anti-Harvard contingent to vote for it, then beat us over the head with it," she said. "We've gotten people to write to city councilors, and they don't like it much."
Councilor Francis H. Duehay '54 said yesterday several people have sent him letters charging religious intolerance.
"I think these people basically don't understand the problem we have with changing the land use pattern," he said. "Each added acquisistion even in itself changes further the character of the neighborhood to institutional use. Cambridge has simply got to get control over this," he added.
He said the problem is not this particular group of people, but rather the precedent it sets. "This group may be fine now, but who's going to belong to it next year?" he asked.