RNA - The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Sterling Heights on Thursday that alleges the city violated a federal land use law when it rejected a proposal from the American Islamic Community Center in 2015 to build a mosque.
In a 20-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., and Detroit allege that Sterling Heights discriminated against the center on the basis of religion and placed a substantial burden on the community’s ability to exercise its religion by denying approval to build a mosque.
“The Constitution protects the rights of religious communities to create the institutions and physical spaces they need to observe and practice their faith free from discriminatory barriers,” said Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the civil rights division.
The justice department cited the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects individuals, houses of worship and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and land-marking law.
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said the law prohibits the government from discriminating on the basis of religion or imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion when making land use decisions.
“We filed this lawsuit to protect the rights of all of our citizens to freely practice their religion and have a place to gather with members of their community,” McQuade said.
City officials have denied accusations they discriminated against Muslims when officials rejected the proposal.