(MINNEAPOLIS, MN, 8/27/2014) -- The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) today welcomed a decision by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to file a lawsuit over the rejection of the planned Abu Huraira Islamic Center in St. Anthony Village, Minn.
The DOJ launched an investigation in October 2012 into whether the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The DOJ concluded that the city of St. Anthony Village did indeed violate RLUIPA when it denied a conditional use permit to the Islamic center. The federal government filed a lawsuit against the city in federal court today.
In a statement welcoming the announcement of the lawsuit, CAIR-MN Civil Rights Attorney Ellen Longfellow said:
"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.
"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. That is why we urged the Department of Justice to investigate."
She added that the case in St. Anthony is one of five mosque opposition incidents in Minnesota over the past two years. The other mosque proposals -- in Blaine, Plymouth, Willmar, and Bloomington -- were eventually approved despite community opposition.
CAIR-MN asked for a federal investigation in June 2012 after the St. Anthony City Council voted 4 to 1 to deny a conditional use permit for the Islamic center, despite a recommendation by the St. Anthony Planning Commission to approve the project. The project had been on hold since a March 2012 moratorium by the council.
At the June council meeting, the proposed Islamic center faced opposition from intolerant speakers who, Islamic center proponents assert, clearly exposed the real reason for the delay and ultimate rejection.
Several residents made anti-Muslim comments at the city council hearing, including: "There is no other religion in the world that condones violence. Islam is evil," and, "Where did you come from? [Go] change your own country."
Video: CAIR-MN Says Bias Behind City's Rejection of Islamic Center (KARE11)
Editorial: Is anti-Muslim bias St. Anthony's issue? (Star Tribune)
Video: CAIR-MN Will Ask DOJ to Probe Rejection of Mosque Plan (KSTP)
CAIR-MN: City Council Rejects Islamic Center Plan (Star Tribune)
In August, the Abu Huraira Islamic Center purchased the building. However, community members were not allowed to use the building as an Islamic center, specifically to convert the basement into a prayer space.
Islamic center proponents said the city allowed similarly situated secular assemblies in the same building while denying a religious assembly, a possible violation of RLUIPA's "Equal Terms" provision.
RLUIPA protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations. RLUIPA and the Minnesota Constitution ban zoning restrictions that impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person or institution unless the government can show that it has a compelling interest for imposing zoning restrictions and that the restriction is the least restrictive way for the government to further that interest.
The DOJ has launched investigations into over 28 cases nationwide involving local denials of mosque construction applications.
One of the most controversial anti-mosque efforts nationwide involved a campaign by Islamophobes to block construction of a new Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn. That Islamic center opened its doors in August 2012 after intervention by the DOJ.
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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