No church status for Circle of Teran

The owners of a spiritual retreat known as the Circle of Teran near Ashland haven't complied with state rules to designate their property as a church, the Jackson County Planning Commission decided unanimously Thursday.

They said the owners, Scott and Sulara Young, haven't provided a thorough traffic analysis or a required study of other potential sites in the area for a church.

Commissioner Don Greene said the county's extensive record on the Circle of Teran indicates the Youngs' religion, Huichol shamanism, could be practiced on other areas of the 1,700-acre Butler Creek Road property, owned by Sulara Young, who runs the retreat along with her husband.

The church designation would have applied to the Youngs' 11,000-square-foot residence.

"Is this just for the convenience of a home that already exists there?" said Greene, who said he didn't dispute the religious convictions of the couple.

The Youngs said the decision confirmed their view that the county is discriminating against them.

"Our religious rights are being trampled upon," said Scott Young, an Ashland plastic surgeon.

"It's like they didn't read any of the record," said Sulara Young. "We're being discriminated against. There is no doubt in my mind."

"The Circle of Teran is a place of power and nowhere else will do," her husband said. "Shamanism is a rural practice, not an urban practice."

County ordinances prohibit a church within three miles of an urban growth boundary. The Circle of Teran is 2.2 linear miles from Ashland's boundary.

The planning commissioners said the Youngs haven't adequately explained why they should get an exception to this rule.

"They haven't said why this particular place on the property is the only place," said Reeve Hennion, planning commission chairman.

Greene said his understanding of Huichol shamanism is that it doesn't require a particular place for a church, although he did say the religion does consider some locations places of power.

Both Greene and Hennion described the process they went through to make their decision as complex and deep.

Scott Young said he has made every effort to prove to the Planning Commission that this particular location has spiritual significance. In documents to the county, the Youngs said they were guided to the former Ireland Ranch by a divine plan, and when they were being shown the property by a real estate agent, a peregrine falcon led them through the property. The Youngs said they had a vision that persuaded them to build the house where it stands today.

They named their property Circle of Teran in honor of the spirit of their son, who died shortly after birth.

Scott Young said the three-mile-limit law is relatively obscure and conflicts with a federal law known as Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which he said prohibits land-use laws that prevent the practice of a religion.

Sulara Young said the Planning Commission meeting was the first time she'd heard that she needed a complete traffic study. She said they had a traffic engineer write a report a year ago and this was the first time she'd heard from the county that it wasn't complete.

The couple said the Planning Commission ignored the fact that a portion of the road that is shared with other neighbors has already been chip-sealed.

They said they would be happy to upgrade the road, improve the septic system and maintain a fire-safe environment to meet county requirements.

"We will do everything in our power to make it safe," said Sulara Young, pointing out they already have a water truck available as a precaution in case of fire.

The Youngs, who are building a new house elsewhere on their property, paid a $500 fine this week to the county after being cited for a May concert featuring New Age artist Snatam Kaur that was held without permits. Tickets were $25 and Jackson County officials attended briefly.

Scott Young said he is hoping the citation will be overturned by the county hearings officer, who has heard the couple's appeal. He said that during the concert, audience members chanted along with the singer to raise consciousness and bring everyone "closer to God." The tickets, he said, were actually a donation to help the artist offset her costs for the performance.

Sulara Young said the county misrepresented how many cars were at the concert. "Susan Lee (county planning director) and her associate lied and said there were over 100," she said, adding there were actually 86 cars.

Lee said the county had said there were about 100 cars at the concert. She said she had difficulty counting beyond 60 cars because the roadway was so congested when she made the visit with a county code enforcement officer. Lee said she agreed ultimately with the Youngs' count when they appeared before the hearings officer.

Lee said she understands the Youngs' frustration with the process. The couple first made their request to the county in 2003.

"It's not that we're picking on them," she said. We're making these requests to demonstrate to the county that they have met the rules."

Scott Young, who said the county's actions are preventing him from practicing his religion because he can't hold retreats and other events on the property, said, "This is taking a tremendous psychological toll on me."

He said he would like the property to continue on after his death as a church, vowing to continue the struggle.

"We will fight it right to the Supreme Court if we have to," he said.

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