A city of 130,000 people in southeastern Michigan is under the gun of Islamic pressure following its denial of a mega-mosque in a residential neighborhood populated largely by Christian refugees who fled Islamic persecution in Iraq.
Sterling Heights already has two mosques, but a third, the American Islamic Community Center, applied for a permit and was rejected after it was determined its proposed use was incompatible with the residential area. Too much traffic, too little parking, the city planning commission decided by a 9-0 vote against the mosque in September 2015.
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But in December, the mosque sued the city and the Obama Justice Department joined in, claiming the real reason the mosque was denied was because the city was caving to anti-Muslim bigotry in the community. Now, a settlement deal is headed to the Sterling Heights City Council on Tuesday evening. If the council votes to sign the deal, it could be very costly for the city.
Local residents fear it's a bad deal, something similar to the Obama DOJ-orchestrated deal forced upon nearby Pittsfield Township, Michigan, last year. That town had to pay out $1.7 million to local Muslims to whom it had denied a permit for an Islamic school, and township employees were ordered to undergo sensitivity training to assure they never again discriminate against Muslims.
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Sessions to the rescue?
Attorney General Jeff Sessions could cancel any similar deal from taking effect in Sterling Heights, but only if he is aware of it and acts quickly.
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"If the city council is found to be cooperating with the Obama DOJ staff who are expediting this consent order to stick it to the Sessions/Trump team, then this city will go nuts," said Dick Manaserri, spokesman for Secure Michigan, a group formed to educate the public on Shariah law and how it differs from American law.
In last November's presidential election, Donald Trump carried Sterling Heights, normally a Democratic Party stronghold, by 56 to 44 percent over Hillary Clinton. He also carried Macomb County, home to Sterling Heights and also a Democratic-oriented county.
But Trump's new AG, Sessions, is apparently not yet fully in control of the Justice Department, which includes many holdovers from the Obama administration.
"Why else would Jeff Sessions not dismiss the Obama DOJ lawsuit against Sterling Heights?" Manaserri asks. "We have been told by legal experts that he has the power to simply dismiss the lawsuit. A consent order typically implies wrongdoing with the application of penalties."
When the planning commission denied the mosque permit in September 2015, hundreds of Sterling Heights residents gathered outside City Hall to celebrate. That celebration was caught on video, and critics cited it as evidence the city was somehow biased against Muslims.
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Tom Mitchell is a resident of Sterling Heights whose family has been there since 1965. He's seen the city's transformation over the past couple of decades under the control of what he calls "progressives." He avoids the world "Democrat" because the city's elections are technically nonpartisan.
"I feel that with the left taking over, they are destroying this community. I don't want to become another Dearborn or a Hamtramck. And our elected officials are enabling this takeover," he said.
Hamtramck, just a few miles south of Sterling Heights, became the nation's first city with a Muslim-majority city council in 2016, and a large portion of Dearborn resembles a Middle Eastern country with signs in Arabic and women walking the streets with their faces veiled.
He said it's not a matter of discrimination. Churches have been denied building projects in the past because their sites were too close to residential housing. They didn't get the federal government to sue the city; they simply picked another site.
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"I truly believe this one man, Mr. Sessions, has the power to throw out any consent decree that was engineered by Obama's Department of Justice. That is our hope," Mitchell said. "In fact, I know of hundreds of us who are praying for that opportunity to get it in Jeff Sessions' hands, before Tuesday night, because once it's signed, how do you overturn that? Signing it is tantamount to a consent that we're a bunch of bigots here in Sterling Heights."
Calls to Sessions' press office went unanswered Monday as all federal offices were closed for President's Day.
'A stinger in the eye' of Iraqi Christians in Sterling Heights
Mitchell said he and others are trying to get the word out in the community that the Tuesday council meeting will include an agenda item on a proposed settlement to the lawsuit.
But the city council did not publish its Tuesday-night agenda in the local legal newspaper, the weekly Sterling Heights Sentry, and it didn't put a notice on its official website until late Friday.
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"We just found out about this, so we've been rushing to try to put together an opposition to stop the city from signing this document, which is an admission of guilt to something we don't think we committed," Mitchell said. "As a local resident, I'm gonna say we don't discriminate in Sterling Heights. We've already got two mosques, a Sikh temple, a Buddhist temple and many other diverse houses of worship, so for this city to be called discriminatory is unbelievable.
"The unfortunate thing is, they want to plop it right in the middle of a Chaldean Christian neighborhood," Mitchell added. "Somebody planned that. Somebody is seeking to put a stinger in someone's eye."
Dr. Ramsay Dass, M.D., president of the American Middle East Christian Congress, said he is not so concerned about another mosque being built in Sterling Heights. He's more concerned about the big picture of political pressure being placed on small cities by an out-of-control federal bureaucracy using coercive tactics.
"As an American citizen, they are entitled to build a mosque, but I do not believe in making laws that small cities and towns cannot fight politically or financially," Dass told WND.
The federal law being used to coerce cities into approving mosques, even when the mosque is in a residential neighborhood, is the Religion Land Use and Institutional Persons Act, or RELUIPA, which was passed by Congress in 2000.
As WND has reported, the Obama administration used this law increasingly against communities denying mosques and less against those denying the construction of churches.
"Any city being hit with this kind of a rule cannot fight back and they submit," Dass said. "The time is too short, and I don't think Sessions has the time to discuss it before it is signed by the city. This rule was put in place, and the Obama administration did not apply it to other religions the same as they applied it to mosques. I am not against building a mosque or a synagogue or a church; everyone has a freedom to build a house of worship, but I don't believe in making it a political issue.
"RELUIPA, the way it is written, you cannot win, and the cities don't have enough funds to hire the lawyers to fight this. It depends on whichever minority has the favored status of the government at any time, you go against that and they're now going to lose, period. My belief is the federal government should not interfere in the local government unless it is a real black-and-white case of discrimination. I work with the Jews and I work with the Muslims, and that is what my Middle East Christian conscience is all about. We need to work together, protect each other."
The reason the Christian community more often loses these fights is because it is divided, Dass added.
"The fault is with the Christians. We are divided. They are afraid to speak up, so I believe the fault and the shame falls to us," he said.
As an example of this division, he cited Archbishop of Greater Detroit, Allen H. Vigneron.
"For the past five years, he has refused to talk to us Middle Eastern Christians living in his archdiocese, but he will go to the mosque and pray with the Muslims there," Dass said. "How do you expect us to move forward? I have pleaded with him to at least meet with us. He knows me very well, but he refused.
"You want to know why we have a problem in Sterling Heights? That is the problem. I have talked to the Armenians, Syrians, Catholics, I have talked to them all and they cannot develop unity and unless we develop unity we are doomed, in Sterling Heights and everywhere else. We are so badly divided, when the highest Catholic authority will not meet with the Middle East Christians, he is afraid he might offend the Muslims or the Jews. Why else won't he talk to us, with no agenda? This is our problem. We are a house divided, and the Bible says a house divided cannot stand."
Mitchell said he would be surprised if there were more than 300 Muslims living in Sterling Heights. And they already have two large mosques to attend.
The proposed new mosque is more than 21,000 square feet in size.
"Why are they building another mosque way larger than the numbers they have to inhabit it?" Mitchell asks. "At 21,000 square feet, it could hold at least 250 to 300 worshipers. And just 4.5 miles due north of that location is the mosque that was approved in 2011 and is approximately the same size."
Perhaps there are plans for many more Muslims to take up residence in the city. WND has reported that a local Muslim leader, Assad Malik, has been temporarily housing Syrian refugees in a hotel in Sterling Heights. They wait there until permanent housing can be found in or around Macomb County, which, along with Oakland and Wayne counties, has been a primary destination for Syrian refugees.
But while the local Muslim population may not be that large yet in Sterling Heights, there are some powerful Muslims living in the community who have influence beyond their numbers, local activists say. A local CAIR-connected Muslim leader, Mohammad Alomari, has a seat on the city's influential Ethnic Committee, which recently handed out an achievement award to a resident who helped the city place hundreds of Syrian refugees in the area.
Iraqi Christian's great-grandfather crucified by Muslims
Nahren Anweya is a spokesperson for the persecuted Middle Eastern Christians living in Michigan. She has appeared on Fox News and spoken at congressional hearings on Christian persecution in the Middle East. Her family has been living in Michigan since they escaped Iraq in 1989. She said Sterling Heights is home to the nation's second largest Chaldean Catholic community of Iraqi Christians. They thought they found a safe haven, only to find out their ancient nemesis, the Middle Eastern Sunni Muslims, were being resettled in the same county and wanted to build a mosque right in the middle of their neighborhood.
Most Iraqi Christians are either Chaldean Catholic or members of an even more ancient Christian sect, the Assyrian Church of the East. The Assyrians speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
"My family they're pretty patriotic American Assyrian Christians. Both of my great-grandfathers were crucified by Muslims literally on a cross," Anweya told WND. "And that was because they were proud Christians, my great-grandfather used to walk around with a large gold cross around his neck, we never tried to hide it."
So to see those ancient persecutors not only showing up in Macomb County en masse, but building a mosque on top of the Chaldean neighborhood, is "traumatizing," Anweya said.
"While we are living in our safe haven, to allow a mosque to be built where we are is like putting us back to Iraq. We left everything behind to start from scratch, and then watching it follow us, this is traumatizing," she said. "There are so many Muslim countries who could take these Muslim refugees, but they send them here. If we were treated fairly in their countries, then I would say let them build as many mosques as they want, but that day is far from reality."
She said Muslim leaders don't believe in equality, and anything they say on that level is mere pandering to gullible local Christians.
"They don't believe in equality, even if they say they do," she said. "Show me a Muslim country where Christians are treated 100 percent equal. Why is Christianity being degraded in every Muslim country? In 2003, we were 1.3 million Christians in Iraq, and that is where Christianity began and thrived, and now these are people who would be beheaded for their Christian faith."
So, she said, the Assyrian and Chaldean communities have news for the Islamic centers that wish to build in their midst:
"These people are not going to give up their Christian faith," Anweya said. "Where a nation is most vulnerable, is when they are not even calling themselves Christian anymore, that's the most dangerous I believe.
"When the sword is placed to your neck it's too late," she added. "The Christians from Iraq, we are not building churches in Dearborn, so why are they building mosques in Sterling Heights?
"If we started building churches in Dearborn, I think you would see a few protests coming from them."
She said that may be the only answer to Islamic expansion in Michigan and other states.
"We need to start the most aggressive missionary work right in their areas. They are pushing us into a corner in the West, the entire Middle East has been taken over, where Christianity thrived and was so strong," she said.
Once in a lifetime opportunity?
She believes now is the time, while Trump is president.
"America right now, because we have an aggressive president who is not afraid to speak out, I think we are being given a reprieve," Anweya said. "We are literally given an opportunity to see the problem and look people in the face and say: Will I let it take me over or will I change?
"Will I stop being politically correct? This is a very serious threat, and it will take over the entire country. It will spread very quickly. It can happen in 30 to 50 years. They have a lot of money behind them. They have Iran behind one group and Saudi Arabia behind the other, two of the most wealthy countries. The Saudis, everything they do in front of Americans is fake. They are the No. 1 funder of terror around the world. The royal family in Saudi Arabia is funding ISIS and all the others."