Muslims sue city for rejecting mega-mosque

By Leo Hohmann

President Obama visited an American mosque for the first time earlier this year. Mosques have proliferated since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks against the U.S. at that time there were less than 300 mosques and now there are more than 3,000. Obama's Justice Department has aggressively fought almost any city that denies a mosque a permit to build.
President Obama visited an American mosque for the first time earlier this year and his administration has filed lawsuits against cities that reject new mosques.

When the planning commission in Sterling Heights, Michigan, voted unanimously last fall to reject a mega-mosque in a residential area, an overflow crowd of residents could be seen on video shouting and cheering with joy.

Looks of relief fell upon their smiling faces, like a huge burden had been lifted.

But the Muslims ominously warned that they were not going away quietly.

On Wednesday they made good on their promise, suing the city for alleged civil rights violations, claims that the Obama administration appears all-to-eager to support.

WND reported that the Obama Department of Justice was secretly trying to intimidate the city earlier this year and now that appears to have been the case all along. The DOJ weighed in publicly Wednesday after the suit was filed with its own threatening language.

U.S. Attorney for Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade told the Free Press, “The Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s Office have been conducting an independent investigation, and that investigation is ongoing.”

The U.S. now has more than 3,100 mosques and at least 80 percent of them have been opened since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. [See map below of mosques across America]

On Sept. 11, 2001, there were less than 300 mosques in the U.S. and by the end of 2015 there were more than 3,000, according to Salatomatic. A new mosque opens somewhere in America every week. Obama’s Justice Department has aggressively filed civil charges, or threatened to sue almost any city that denies a mosque a permit to build.

mosques across america

The percentage of federal DOJ investigations involving mosques or Islamic schools has risen from 15 percent in the 2000 to August 2010 period to 38 percent during the September 2010 to present period, according to the DOJ.

In the Sterling Heights lawsuit, the American Islamic Community Center accuses the city of being biased against Muslims, citing e-mails from city officials that talked about the possibility of having the mosque’s leaders investigated for involvement in terrorism.

In one e-mail, a police official asks whether the FBI can be contacted to see whether the mosque leaders are “on their radar.”

City officials and residents have said their rejection of the mosque was not based on bigotry, noting that the city already has a mosque. Rather, they said it had to do with concerns that the location off 15 Mile Road was not suitable for such a large building and could cause traffic problems.

The mosque was proposed at 21,000 square feet with large towers for minarets. The mosque leaders said they would consider downsizing the project but it was still rejected.

Cities rejecting churches and synagogues are not at all unusual. A quick Google search reveals that it happens almost every day in one city or another. Very few end up in litigation compared to the mosque rejections, an attorney specializing in these issues told WND.

This is not the first time residents in Michigan have stood up and voiced their opposition to mosques invading their neighborhoods. The DOJ last year filed suit against Pittsfield Township after it denied an Islamic school a permit, and the leader of the Ann Arbor mosque seeking to build the school had once been investigated by the FBI for possible involvement with one of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Residents who opposed the Sterling Heights mosque have said the building would be in a residential area that would cause traffic congestion, noise and activity not suitable to the area.

The lawsuit cites comments from residents at public hearings in an attempt to show that residential opposition was based on “anti-Islam” bias.

Where did all the Muslims come from?

Some residents also expressed concerns about rising tensions between the Iraqi Chaldean Christians living in Sterling Heights and the growing Muslim community.

Dick Manasseri, an activist and spokesman for the anti-Shariah watchdog group Secure Michigan, said there are already more than 7,000 Muslims living in Oakland and Macomb counties. And that figures to rise substantially with Obama’s ongoing importation of Syrian refugees into the area. These two counties have already received more than 750 Syrians just since Oct. 1 of last year, according to the U.S. State Department Refugee Processing Center.

Most of the Muslims moving into Sterling Heights, Madison Heights, Troy and the surrounding area have been imported by the federal government’s refugee resettlement program, which pays Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services to settle them in apartments and affordable housing.  Others have been brought in on green cards by area universities such as Wayne State and Oakland University.

But the lawsuit attributes the backlash to simple racism.

“With a vociferous and racist member of the Planning Commission leading the charge, the Planning Commission voted to reject the site plan,” states the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit. “With no other choice, the American Islamic Community Center has filed this suit seeking equitable relief to build the Mosque and seeks damages as the City of Sterling Heights’ conduct violates, among other things, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act … and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”

Mayor supports influx of Muslims

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor has boasted in the past about how his city respects “diversity.” About 23 percent of the residents of the city are immigrants, one of the highest percentages among cities in southeastern Michigan, the Free Press reported. It has the nation’s largest Iraqi-American Christian community, some of whom escaped Islamic butchers in Iraq only to find out there’s a mosque being built in close proximity to their neighborhoods.

Watch Sterling Heights residents rejoice after the city planning board rejected a proposed mosque with Iraqi Christians in the city among those who were the happiest.

[jwplayer 4GOdnJ0s-pszPfxYQ]

Karen Lugo is an attorney who has represented religious groups in litigation regarding federal religious land-use law, and is the author of a forthcoming book on the topic.

She said the federal lawsuits are typically filed on the grounds of violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a 2000 federal law that prohibits local governments from imposing land-use regulations that substantially burden religious rights “unless there is a compelling government interest.”

“RLUIPA does require cities to treat religious assemblies equally but it does not excuse religious applicants from presenting accurate information and working with planning officials to comply with reasonable limits for harmonious co-existence with the zoned area,” Lugo told WND. “Planners must treat applicants as they have treated past assembly land uses, according to RLUIPA. The law does not give a religious assembly the right to ask for extraordinary privileges as compared to other religious uses, or to slight applicable tests, hurdles, and limits that go into approving a conditional use. Residents have the right to know if mosque officials or sponsors have tendencies to radicalization but this is not part of the municipal planning process. Any reasoned and informed concerns leading to such debates must take place outside of ‘city hall’ and the deliberative planning process.”

No different than past prejudice against Catholics?

The lead attorney filing the case on behalf of the mosque, which is based in neighboring Madison Heights, is Azzam Elder, who tried to equate the supposed bias to earlier prejudices against Catholics and Jews.

“We all know of a time in our history when sentiment in America were anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-German, anti-Japanese, or anti-Black, and those times have forever stained on our history,” Elder said in a statement. “As defenders of the U.S. Constitution, we are confident that there will come a day when it will also be inconceivable to be anti-Muslim. This is why we filed this lawsuit, in order to continue the struggle of protecting the rights of all minority groups in America.”

On Sept. 2 last year, Mayor Taylor wrote on Facebook: “I completely and unequivocally denounce any anti-Muslim bigotry. I will work with the AICC (American Islamic Community Center) to ensure they have a place to worship in our city.”

Taylor told the Free Press last year: “I urge all residents to be respectful and tolerant of each other. Regardless of the outcome, Sterling Heights must remain a place that is open and welcoming for people of all races, faiths, ethnicities, and backgrounds.”

Mohammed Abdrabboh, an attorney helping with the lawsuit, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that “Islamophobia (is) alive and well in Sterling Heights.”

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