MEDFORD, Ore. — A state decision in favor of a shaman and his wife who practice an animistic religion near Ashland will give Oregon churches more latitude to build houses of worship in rural areas.
The Dec. 23 decision from the Land Use Board of Appeals says that cities can't treat churches differently from other community uses, such as parks and golf courses, when they consider land zoned for agricultural use within three miles of an urban growth boundary.
The board ruled that Jackson County erred in denying Scott and Sulara Young's request to use an 11,000-square-foot dwelling on their 96-acre property as a church.
State land-use laws prohibit new church construction on land zoned for exclusive farm use that lies within three miles of an urban growth boundary, but allow other community-based uses such as golf courses and public parks.
The board ruled in Young v. Jackson County that the distinction violates the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, which provides, "No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution."
Scott Young is a plastic surgeon and shaman. His wife, also known as Robin James, practices massage therapy at his office.
They call the ranch Circle of Teran in memory of a son who died at birth, and they have said they were guided to the proposed church site by spiritual forces.
They say their faith was developed by the Huichol Indians of Mexico. In general, animists believe that all things have spirits or souls.
The building is about two miles from the Ashland urban-growth boundary.
"We're very pleased our constitutional and religious rights have been upheld," Sulara Young said.
"It's something we've been trying to challenge for a long time," said the Youngs' attorney, Ross Day, a lawyer for Oregonians in Action, the Beaverton-based property-rights organization.
The decision sends the case back to county officials for review.