By Andy Rathbun, Pioneer Press
The U.S. government sued the city of St. Anthony on Wednesday for alleged religious discrimination over its rejection of a proposed Islamic center in 2012.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said the city violated a 2000 federal law when it denied the Abu Huraira Islamic Center a permit to hold religious assemblies in a building inside the city's light-industrial district.
"The city council's vote violated the civil rights of the Abu Huraira Islamic Center," Luger said at a news conference in Minneapolis. "Under the same zoning language, the city had allowed other assemblies in the same neighborhood, including a union hall and a church."
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement Wednesday that it welcomed the lawsuit.
"We applaud this decision in support of religious freedom and hope for a speedy resolution to the case so that the local Muslim community may have access to the facilities required to meet its needs," said Ellen Longfellow, an attorney for the group.
"We were shocked when St. Anthony denied the conditional use permit for the Islamic center in 2012 and saw no legitimate reason for the denial," she added. "That is why we urged the Department of Justice to investigate."
The Abu Huraira Islamic Center was founded in 2009 and began that year to look for properties around the Twin Cities to metro for community gathering. In late 2011, it found the St. Anthony Business Center, 3055 Old Highway 8, according to the suit.
The group began raising money and eventually purchased the building, Luger said. The Islamic Center intended to maintain office spaces for the current tenants and to hold its religious gatherings in the building's unoccupied basement level. (Read more)