The Department of Justice has announced that it is suing the small town of St. Anthony, Minnesota, after a two-year investigation into the town’s denial of a permit to create an Islamic cultural center.
The DOJ claims that the north Minneapolis town broke a federal law when it rejected the center in 2012.
“An injustice has been done,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said on August 27. “I will not stand by while any religious group is subject to unconstitutional treatment that violates federal civil rights laws.”
The DOJ claims that the city violated the law when it refused the Abu Huraira Islamic Center the right to create an Islamic cultural center in the basement of the St. Anthony Business Center. The DOJ cites a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act that was enacted in the year 2000.
In his press conference, Luger said that if local voters rose up to force their politicians to allow the Islamic center to be established and follow his interpretation of the law he would consider withdrawing the lawsuit.
Lugar may be putting hope in the wrong people, however, as many voters actually spoke out against the center at a city council meeting in June of 2012.
But the city fathers insist that the decision to deny the permit is based solely on zoning issues and had nothing to do with religion.
“Religious uses of any type are allowed in the vast majority of the city,” City Attorney Jay Lindgren said. “They are just not allowed in the roughly 5 percent of the city reserved for industrial uses. … An industrial zone is designed to create jobs and be an economic engine.”
To buttress its case, the DOJ claimed that there were examples in the past of the city allowing some religious groups to use the zoned areas and also allowing non-industrial uses. But Lindgren said that the city has denied permits to religious sects other than Muslims in the past, proving, he said, that the town isn’t discriminating against Muslims.
“The city will vigorously defend its actions,” Lindgren insisted this week. “Doesn’t matter whether it’s a mosque, synagogue, church–none are allowed in the area intended for manufacturing and offices where jobs are put into place.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.