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Pagan High Priest Claims Discrimination by City Officials in Beebe

City officials say the temple and shop just aren't allowed under zoning codes. The church's high priest says the real reason the city hasn't been more helpful is because he doesn't worship the God the mayor believes in.
BEEBE, AR - High priest Bertram Dahl's dream is to open Seekers Temple and a small spiritual goods shop in the garage and shop behind his Beebe home.

"When they knew we were going to open a church, it wasn't an issue," Dahl said.

According to Dahl, he was well on his way, with help from the mayor.

"We explained to him [the mayor] the house had a building that we could open the church in, and he had no problem," Dahl added.

But when the city found out Dahl and his fellow temple members weren't Christian, but Pagan, he said officials began persecuting him.

"We were basically given a cease and desist you know -- shut down. We hadn't even unpacked. We aren't even open -- how are we getting this," he said.

The order was issued the same day the city's code officer received a letter from Mayor Mike Robertson, expressing his opinion that no conditional use or special use permits should be issued on Dahl's property for a worship place or shop. Dahl hadn't even applied yet.

"It's zoned as residential," said City Attorney Barrett Rogers. "It's not zoned commercial, which is what's required for a place of worship or a retail business."

Rogers referred us to the city zoning code for provisions regarding R-2 properties, which Dahl's is qualified as.

"Whatever the zoning code said is allowed is allowed," he said.

According to the city's code, though, places of worship and private nonprofits, which Seekers Temple is, are allowable in R-2 areas, with conditional and special use permits.

"I haven't seen any of that paperwork. My understanding is he has not asked to be given the paperwork," Rogers said of Dahl's permit application. "Had he asked for the paperwork it would have been provided."

Dahl insisted he had asked for permit application paperwork from the mayor's office, though he alleges he had been advised it wouldn't be approved.

"I told them I understand you're not going to give me the permit, but can you give me the paperwork. We don't give paperwork," Dahl said.

The mayor opted not to go on camera with us, referring us to the city attorney for an on camera interview. But when we asked questions about the permit paperwork Dahl would have to fill out, Robertson told us "there was no permit he could apply for."

According to Dahl, he wasn't looking for a fight. He simply wanted to provide a place for like-minded Pagans to call home.

Several home businesses operate on the stretch of road where Dahl lives. While home occupation is allowed there, selling things isn't, which would restrict Dahl's shop.

Dahl claimed he also reached out to his alderman regarding city policy, but when we spoke to the alderman, the only comment he wanted to make on the record was "that man's God isn't my God."
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