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Buddhists May Worship In House, Court Decides

By Elizabeth H. Wiltshire

The Cambridge Buddhist Association (CBA) last week gained the right to live and hold religious services in their house at 75 Sparks St.

Middlesex County Supreme Court Judge Edward M. Ginsberg ruled November 20 that three ordinances calling for a temporary moratorium on the sale of the house and prohibiting its use by tax-exempt institutions were invalid.

The ruling said the city should immediately issue a certificate of occupancy, but a spokesman for the Building Department said yesterday the permit has not been granted.

City Superintendent Charles Sprague is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

City Solicitor Russell Higley said yesterday the city has not yet decided whether to appeal the decision. He said he has not had a chance to talk to Douglas L. Randall, the private counsel who handled the case, and City Manager James L. Sullivan. The three will reach a decision on Monday, he said, adding that the city has 30 days to file an appeal.

Maurine Freedgood, president of CBA, said yesterday she would not comment on the matter until the end of the 30-day period.

The judge stated in his 13-page opinion that the city had not tried to publicize or hold hearings on the proposed ordinances before trying to enforce them.

"They were trying to play policeman but they really had no legal force," Elsie P. Mitchell, acting director of the CBA, said yesterday. "It was completely arbitrary," she added.

The court found that Sprague had told Mitchell last June "there is no reason not to" allow the CBA to use the house. But, it continues, Sprague later refused the occupancy permit because Higley had told him it had become a "political issue."

Neighbors complained when the CBA bought the house that the group's presence would change the residential character of the neighborhood. Their petition led to the ordinances.

The city based its arguments at the two-day trial held November 7 and 8 on a home-rule measure the state legislature passed this fall, allowing Cambridge to prevent tax-exempt institutions from owning property in residentially-zoned sections of the city.

However, Cambridge has not drawn up any regulations exercising that power, and will not until early next year. The court ruled the city could not bar the CBA while formulating the regulations

David Lennox, a caretaker, and his dog have been the only occupants of the house since the CBA began holding meditation sessions there last spring. The group will not hold services until Cambridge grants a certificate of occupancy.

"Needless to say, we are very pleased," Mitchell said. "But we think it's kind of hard on the taxpayers to pay the city solicitor to go after us in a case that very clearly was just harassment," she added

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