ORANGE, Calif. - A federal judge today allowed a Vietnamese Buddhist congregation to worship legally in a Garden Grove building it purchased more than two years ago.

Finding that the Quan Am Temple and Abbot Thich Dao Quang have demonstrated extreme hardship and that the city code preventing the congregation from practicing religion is likely unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney granted the temple a preliminary injunction permitting worshipers to use the space for religious and non-religious activities. The injunction goes into effect immediately.

'This is a huge relief for the temple and its congregants,' said Hector Villagra, director of the ACLU/SC Orange County office. 'Everyone is very pleased they will be able to use the building they purchased to celebrate their religion together again.'

The ACLU/SC is seeking a permanent order allowing the construction of a new temple at the site. The temple submitted plans that were finally rejected by the city in February.

Quan Am Temple, or the Vietnamese Buddhism Study Temple, filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Santa Ana in August against the Garden Grove city council and planning commission for violating the Temple and its congregation's First Amendment rights to free religious exercise and Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection, and their rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

Quan Am Temple opened in Garden Grove in 1999, but by 2003 the congregation had outgrown its building. The Temple began looking for a larger permanent site to house a monastery and a place of worship for the congregation of 150 to 300 area residents.

Current Garden Grove statutes require religious institutions to be housed in residential zones or seek a zone change from the city and obtain a conditional use permit prior to practicing their religion in the city. In 2004 a congregant loaned Quan Am Temple $1.95 million to purchase a medical building on 1.8 acres in an area zoned Office-Professional that had been on the market for 3 years. Before purchasing the property, the Abbot and two followers received assurances from members of the city council that the city would support the project, but despite a recommendation from city staff the planning commission and the city council denied permits for the project.

Related: Read the judge's order (pdf)