CAIR-Chicago Wins Judgment for Muslim Center’s Freedom of Religion

The Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago) today welcomed the decision by District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer granting summary judgment to the civil rights organization’s client, Irshad Learning Center, an Islamic religious institution primarily serving the Iranian community.

Irshad Learning Center (ILC) applied for a zoning permit to use a former school in unincorporated DuPage County as a mosque and Islamic school. The DuPage County Board denied the permit without explanation in January 2010.

While the Zoning Board of Appeals (the first governmental entity to consider the petition) repeatedly recommended denying the permit, the County Development Committee supported ILC’s petition with various conditions.

CAIR-Chicago filed a lawsuit against the county and members of the board on behalf of ILC on April 8, 2010.

ILC’s complaint alleged violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as state constitutional and zoning law.

Group aims to limit Muslim development of former Catholic school in rural Howard County, Maryland

WESTMINSTER, Md. — A citizens group aims to limit new construction at a former Catholic school complex in rural Howard County that an Islamic community is considering buying.

The Carroll County Times reports that residents of the Cooksville area met Thursday night with a representative from the Dar-us-Salaam community of College Park. The Islamic group is considering moving its mosque and school to the former Woodmont Academy, which closed two years ago.

The citizens group says it will fight a proposed zoning change that would expand the property’s development options to include “institutional and cultural facilities.”

The group’s lawyer says his clients aren’t anti-Muslim. He says they just want to preserve the area’s rural character.

The Islamic community says it hopes to overcome any opposition through its actions.

Norwalk supports mosque after lawsuit, fed inquiry

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — When Norwalk received a proposal to build the city’s first mosque, it was rejected by officials who said the structure was too big for the largely residential area and would create too much traffic.

The applicants filed a federal lawsuit alleging religious discrimination and the U.S. Justice Department, which has been intervening in mosque projects around the country, launched an inquiry into the handling of the proposal.

Now, the city is moving to settle the lawsuit and support a version of the closely watched project. Norwalk officials say religion was never part of their considerations.

‘‘It was not based on any religious bias,’’ Mayor Richard Moccia said. ‘‘I can’t recall any zoning officer or any city official ever commenting that it happened to be a mosque and that’s the reason they were opposing it.’’

Moccia said the Justice Department wrote about two months ago, seeking information such as minutes of a zoning hearing on the project. He said the city responded and has not heard back from federal officials.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

The Al Madany Islamic Center of Norwalk sued in June after the Zoning Commission rejected the $3.5 million project. On Nov. 29, the Zoning Commission voted to approve the mosque, subject to an agreement on the terms and conditions of a final settlement.

‘‘We are absolutely glad to see this,’’ said Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. ‘‘We’re going to let the process play itself out and hopefully we’ll celebrate at the end as a whole community in Norwalk.’’

While Muslims comprise about 1 percent of the American population, 14 percent of the religious land use investigations by the Justice Department’s civil rights division in the past decade involved mosques or Muslim schools, according to a report last year.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the division has opened 28 matters involving construction of Muslim religious institutions.

‘‘Of those, 18 have been opened since May 2010, suggesting that anti-Muslim bias in zoning is on the rise,’’ the report stated.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, blamed the spike in cases on controversy stemming from a proposed mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York. He said an opponent of that project wrote a manual on how to stop mosques

CAIR-MN Asks DOJ to Probe Bias in Rejection of Islamic Center

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) today called on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate allegations of anti-Muslim bias in the rejection of a proposed Islamic center in St. Anthony, Minn.

Last night, the St. Anthony City Council voted 4-1 to deny a conditional use permit for the Abu-Huraira Islamic Center, despite a recommendation by the St. Anthony Planning Commission to approve the project. The project had been on hold since a March moratorium by the council.

At yesterday’s council meeting, the proposed Islamic center faced opposition from an intolerant speakers who — Islamic center proponents assert — clearly exposed the real reason for the approval delay and 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.”

In a response to the city council’s rejection of the Islamic center, CAIR-MN sent a letter to the DOJ seeking a federal investigation.

CAIR-MN is asking federal authorities to determine whether the denial of land usage for the Islamic center constitutes a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

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.

“We ask the DOJ to use the full measure of its authority to launch a thorough investigation into the recent denial of the proposed Abu-Huraira Islamic Center,” wrote CAIR-MN Executive Director Lori Saroya in her letter to Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

Saroya said CAIR-MN is also asking DOJ officials to meet with St. Anthony Muslim leaders.

Yesterday, CAIR’s Michigan chapter called on the FBI to investigate a possible bias motive for a fire and hate graffiti targeting a building associated with a Dearborn mosque.

Islamic group sues NJ town over its refusal to allow a mosque in a former banquet hall

NEWARK, N.J. — An Islamic group has sued a suburban town it says engaged in religious discrimination by abruptly changing zoning regulations to prevent the opening of a mosque.
Members of the Al Falah Center and local residents filed suit Tuesday in federal court in Trenton against Bridgewater Township’s mayor, council and planning officials. “What should have been an uncomplicated approval of the application then foundered in a storm of anti-Muslim sentiment and hysteria,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also says the sudden zoning changes thwarted plans the group had been working on, with the township’s knowledge, to convert a closed banquet hall in a mostly residential area into a mosque and community center. It accuses town officials of bowing to pressure from protesters and an anti-mosque Internet campaign.

Town officials voted to change the rules for houses of worship, prohibiting them in residential zones unless they fronted on state highways, court papers say. The ruling affected only the mosque, the suit says, as 17 existing religious facilities in Bridgewater — several in residential areas — were allowed to remain. The suit seeks to block enforcement of the ordinance and allow the group’s application to be processed.

Temecula California: Mosque Is Approved

The Temecula City Council voted 4 to 0 Wednesday to allow about 150 Muslim families to build a mosque after months of angry debate over the plan. Opponents say that the Islamic Center of Temecula could bring extremist activity and traffic woes to the region in Riverside County, about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles. The Islamic Center was formed in 1998, and its members have been worshiping in a warehouse. The group plans to build a 25,000-square-foot mosque.

After an eight-hour hearing that didn’t wrap up until 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, the council approved the mosque by unanimous vote. It did so after City Atty. Peter Thorson warned council members that they had to base their decision on such mundane municipal concerns as the project’s environmental impact or compliance with zoning rules, not on whether they approve of Islam. To do otherwise, Thorson pointed out, would be to violate the 1st Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of religion.

Map: Nationwide Anti-Mosque Activity

The controversy over the planned Park 51 community center in New York City is only one example of opposition to mosques and Islamic centers in the United States. Existing and proposed mosque sites across the country have been targeted for vandalism and other criminal acts, and there have been efforts to block or deny necessary zoning permits for the construction and expansion of other facilities.

The Madina Mosque is undertaking a 4 million-dollar renovation in Toronto

Toronto architect Zak Ghanim designed the upgraded 25,000 square-foot mosque to accommodate the tremendous growth of the central Toronto Muslim community and to give the location a traditional Islamic look with minaret, domes, and adorning crescents. The new mosque will feature a large prayer hall for thousands of worshippers, an upper mezzanine for segregated women’s prayer, and seven domes on the roof — six of them glass skylights. Thus far, Hanif Shaikh, president of the Madina Mosque, notes the changes have been readily accepted within the broader community. There has been no community protest over its renovations, no rejection by the city, no contentious appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, and no vandalism. The remodelling is expected to take two years.

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Swiss Government Opposes Minaret Ban

The government reiterated on Wednesday, August 27, opposition to a campaign by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) for a referendum on banning minarets in the central European country, branding it unconstitutional and discriminatory. “The popular initiative against the construction of minarets has been submitted in accordance with the applicable regulations but infringes guaranteed international human rights and contradicts the core values of the Swiss Federal Constitution,” it said in a statement cited by Reuters. The SVP, who is spearheading the campaign, has amassed 113,540 signatures, enough to force a nationwide vote on the minarets ban. Under Swiss rules, the electorate can request a popular vote if it manages to collect 100,000 signatures within 18 months from eligible voters for the initiative. The minaret proposal has to be discussed by parliament before being put to a popular vote and the process could take several years.

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Swiss nationalists vote on banning Muslim minarets

A campaign led by the right-wing populists of the Swiss people’s party, is seeking to enshrine a constitutional ban on minarets. The initiative received more than enough votes to warrant a referendum on the issue – 15,000 more than the 100,000 signatures needed. People’s party lawmaker Walter Wobmann defended the move, saying “many recognize in this a further step in the creeping Islamization of Switzerland.” Opponents of the proposition say that it would violate the religious freedom of the more than 300,000 Muslims in Switzerland. Henri-Mazine Khedoud, spokesperson for the Swiss Association of Muslims for Secularism said that he is confident the motion will be rejected. No date has been set for the referendum.

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