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Judge upholds ouster of 2 monks

The Chicago Tribune, USA
July 20, 2004
Rachel Osterman • Tuesday July 20, 2004

A Kane County judge ordered two Buddhist monks Monday to leave a suburban temple, disappointing the Laotian immigrants who protested outside the courthouse but ending a legal battle that has divided the faction-ridden temple.

Monks Khen Kataviravong, who is nearly 80, and Phenethong Keoviseth, who is about 40, left court in their mustard-colored robes saying they would find other housing. But they said they were disappointed they won’t be able to minister at the temple “until I die,” as Kataviravong put it.

Kataviravong and Keoviseth were brought to the U.S. two and five years ago respectively by a Laotian Buddhist temple in Hampshire. The temple’s board voted in February to evict them, saying they had been disrespectful to temple authorities.

But the monks refused to go. They have continued to stay at Wat Lao Buddharam of Northern Illinois for the last five months, arguing that their spiritual obligations are lifelong and that the temple has no right to kick them out.

On Monday, Circuit Judge Wiley Edmondson disagreed, saying the temple can evict the monks because temple President Patrick Wu testified that he never intended for the monks to stay indefinitely.

“The agreement is terminable at will,” the judge said.

He gave the monks 30 days to leave. Though the eviction dispute has been decided–the monks’ supporters said the men won’t appeal–members of the Southeast Asian Buddhist community said they were shocked to see their religious community resort to courtroom battles.

“We have to protect the monks. They are the ones who carry God’s word,” said Souvantha Vixaysakd, one of 20 protesters outside the Geneva courthouse.

Religious scholars said that such courtroom battles would be unheard of in Laos, where monks hold more power over lay leaders. Wu said he was pleased with the judge’s order.

“Nobody can promise anybody to stay forever,” he said.

Wu said he asked the monks to leave because they “don’t respect” the head monk and left the monastery without permission “as they please.” He has criticized them for not holding to their poverty vow because they kept a refrigerator in their room and for trying to vote Wu out of the temple presidency.

The monks and their supporters said they have every right to leave and return to the premises and that a refrigerator is a necessity, not a luxury. They said Wu has taken too much control from temple members.

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