Sunday, August 15

Austin Gurdwara for the Wall Street Journal

Austin's Sikh community is facing the demolition of their new temple after a dispute with a neighbor over subdivision covenants. The congregation began worshiping in 2003 in a mobile home on property they purchased in far west Austin.  In 2005, the congregation obtained the necessary permits to begin construction of a new temple and faced no opposition until John and Leslie Bollier moved into the neighborhood in 2008 and filed suit claiming the temple violated the subdivision's restrictions on commercial building.

A trial judge sided with Austin Gurdwara in March 2009 and construction of the temple was completed in April 2010. In July, a Texas appellate court overturned the 2009 decision and ruled that the new temple must be razed or moved.  The Sikh community is appealing that decision to the Texas Supreme Court.

I spent a Sunday afternoon with the Austin Gurdwara community during their devotional service and communal meal.  Dr. Harnek Bains and the members of his congregation were thoughtful and patient explaining their religious philosophy and practice as well as the details of their legal battle.

Satpal Singh, left, and brother Gursagardeep Singh, right, stand in Austin Gurdwara's old sanctuary, a cramped trailer on Avispa Way in far west Austin on Sunday August 8, 2010.  The group began using the 1,200 square-foot trailer in 2003 and quickly outgrew the space.  Ground breaking on the new sanctuary began in 2007 but met with a lawsuit by neighbors John and Leslie Bollier.  A trial judge sided with the Sikh group and construction was completed in April 2010.  In July, the Texas Third Court of Appeals overturned the lower court's ruling and the new temple might be torn down.

Dr. Yadvindera Bains waves a whisk, or chaur, over the book of Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, in Austin Gurdwara's new 3,600 square foot temple.

The Sikh organization has said it spent $350,000 to build the new facility on land that cost an additional $100,000.  Neighbors John and Leslie Bollier say the building could bring down property values.  Dr. Yadvindera Bains, right, prays before the start of services on Sunday August 8, 2010.

Sikhism, a monotheistic religion that began 500 years ago, stresses the importance of leading a moral life.

Sikhism is the world's fifth largest religion.  An estimated 500,000 Sikhs live in the U.S.

Sukhchain Singh, center, blesses the book of Sikh scripture after Sunday worship.

Dr. Harnek Bains is the leader of Austin Gurdwara.

Dr. Harnek Bains in the 1,200 square foot trailer that his congregation used for worship services beginning in 2003.

The congregation of Austin Gurdwara shares a communal meal called Langar in the trailer that once housed their sanctuary.

If the Texas Supreme Court upholds the Bollier's appeal ruling, the Sikh community would still be able to worship in the mobile home on the property.  The new temple, however would have to be razed or moved.

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