Worship, But At What Cost?
Oct. 1, 2006 — -- Four times a day, Hindu devotees flock to Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a spectacular temple erected not in India or Nepal, but in Stafford, Texas.
"We felt something divine about this particular location," said temple member Nilkanth Patel.
Hindus aren't the only ones drawn to Stafford. In a town with just one movie theater, two grocery stores, and 14 gas stations, there are 51 houses of worship, representing the united nations of religions.
Chinese Baptists worship in one church, Syrian Orthodox followers in another. Muslims have a mosque, Pentecostals an old McDonald's. There's even a Buddhist temple.
Why have all these sanctuaries sprung up in Stafford?
"Maybe it's because the city's too friendly and that's why they come here, to this spot," mused Buddhist Progress Society Reverend Miao Hong.
A former NFL running back turned marriage minister says the town has a higher calling.
"We know that it was the call of God for us to come to this place," said the Rev. Allen Rice of Together We Stand Christian Church.
Whatever the reason, religious locations have doubled in a decade. As one resident put it, "If you can't find religion in Stafford, you ain't looking hard enough."
Stafford's churches, which are all tax exempt, are gobbling up what little land is left for commercial development. In a city with no property tax, the mayor says that could bust the budget.
The city council is considering a cap on churches, although that could be an invitation to litigation.
"Any town that thinks it's going to balance its budget by excluding churches had better think twice because excluding churches is going to result in a very expensive lawsuit that they are likely to lose," said Kevin Hasson, of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
To strike a better balance between faith and finance, Stafford is ready to go all the way to the Supreme Court. The city is convinced it already has enough God -- or Gods -- to go around.