By Journal Staff on Sun, Jun 19, 2011

Back in September, the Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal – or UDV, a Christian-based religion originating in Brazil with a congregation in Arroyo Hondo – was pleading for a public hearing on its application to build a church in the southeast-Santa Fe suburb. The church had been going around and around with the county’s land use department on the application for more than a year before that, as the county raised objection after objection in what was certainly beginning to look like an attempt to stall the project indefinitely.
Now, well over two years after the church’s initial application, the Santa Fe County Commission has finally held one public hearing on the subject. That was last week, and the commission decided to table the issue for yet another month, apparently because some Arroyo Hondo residents object to the church’s plan.
As the Journal noted last September, we’d ordinarily applaud county efforts to make sure infill development doesn’t cause problems in an established neighborhood. But in the case of the UDV church, that shouldn’t be any kind of issue.
The fact is, the church has been holding services at the exact same location it proposes to build for more than a decade, with no complaints or problems on record from the neighborhood. Nevertheless, the objecting neighbors are now pulling out all the stops, hiring hydrologists, for example, who argue that the new building’s sewage treatment system possibly will allow contaminants from the mildly hallucinogenic tea used in UDV rites to leach into the water table.
Given the length of time and extent of concentrations it takes for ordinary contaminants from septic tanks to pose any danger to surrounding communities, this argument sounds nothing short of preposterous.
Neighborhood claims that the comings and goings of the 100 or so church congregants will disturb their enclave are equally preposterous, given the fact that the congregants have been coming and going for years without disturbing anybody.
(Incidentally, allowing churches in residential neighborhoods is a long-respected practice in Santa Fe as well as elsewhere. We can think of several Santa Fe mainstream churches with congregations many times the size of the Arroyo Hondo UDV that have been neighborhood fixtures for decades – even generations.)
Freedom to practice religion was a founding principal of our nation. Santa Fe’s county commissioners may want to ponder that, as well as refresh their acquaintance with the First Amendment, as they consider how to vote on the UDV building application.

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