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NY temple board of trustees win legal battle

Written by: Staff

Washington, Mar 14 (UNI) A long-drawn out legal battle for control of one of the largest Hindu temples in United States was settled in the New York Supreme Court with a victory for the current Board of Trustees.

The Hindu Temple Society of North America in Queens, New York manages the Ganesh Temple in Flushing.

After a court-supervised elections were held, Justice Joseph G Golia of the New York Supreme Court announced the results at a hearing on Friday in Queens.

The highest number of votes went to Dr Uma Mysorekar, a well-known gynaecologist and current President of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, with 2,759 votes. All of the other current Board candidates also received over 2,000 votes.

The dissidents failed to gain even a single seat on the Board of Trustees.

At stake was the control of an impressive house of worship with assets valued at more than 11 million dollars and the temple's right to conduct its affairs without government intervention.

''This is a vindication of what we have said all along. That the Board Members have been excellent stewards of the temple. Although the courts have unconstitutionally forced us to conduct this election at the insurgents' behest, we are still happy that devotees have given us their confidence and trust,'' Dr Mysorekar said.

She said she was relieved that the legal battle, spread over seven years, was at last over. ''It is actually a victory for Dharma and Satya. Now I am happy that all the pending temple projects could be undertaken to provide better facilities to the devotees, '' Dr Mysorekar said.

Robert Greene, Counsel to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the temple and the trustees, said, "We are very happy that the devotees have resoundingly demonstrated their commitment to the First Amendment and freedom of religion.'' ''We will continue to fight to have the New York State Courts recognise the Temple's right to organise and manage itself without state interference,'' he added.

The crux of the case was that some dissident members, led by Mr Krishnamurthy Aiyer, formerly the temple appraiser, demanded fresh elections so that the same Board members do not control the affairs of the temple. But when they failed in their attempts to hold elections, they tried to use the state court system as a tool to transfer leadership over. The federal court then ordered elections under the court supervision -- a move considered by the current Board of trustees, as state interference in the matters of the church.

What started as a dissidents demand for elections, metamorphosed over seven years of litigation, into a dispute between religion and state with the Washington DC-based Becket Fund, stepping in to defend the Hindu temple.

According to the Becket Fund sources the Hindu Temple, the nation's oldest and most influential, became the target of a hostile takeover attempt when six people took the matter to the New York federal and state courts.

In response to the hostile takeover attempt, trial court judge Justice Golia and his appointed referee, Long Island lawyer Anthony J Piacentini, in a forceful restructuring of the Temple, ordered elections. Instead of allowing the temple to govern itself in the traditional Hindu religious manner, the court was forcing it to adopt a congregational structure similar to that of a Baptist church, Becket Fund sources said.

The Becket Fund, a non-partisan, interfaith, public-interest law firm committed to religious freedom, was contacted by the current Board to fight against what it said was ''the unprecedented invasion of its religious autonomy by the state''.


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