Press release: CAIR-MN Welcomes Federal Settlement of St. Anthony Islamic Center Rejection

U.S. Attorney Andy Luger and an official in the U.S. Attorney General’s office announced a settlement that will allow an Islamic worship center to open in St. Anthony. Source.

CAIR(MINNEAPOLIS, MN, 12/16/2014) — The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) today welcomed a federal agreement over the rejection of the planned Abu Huraira Islamic Center in St. Anthony Village, Minn.

In 2012, CAIR-MN asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to launch an investigation into whether the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

The DOJ agreed to investigate in October 2012 and concluded that the city of St. Anthony Village did indeed violate RLUIPA when it denied a conditional use permit to the Islamic center. The federal government filed a lawsuit against the city in federal court in August 2014.

“This settlement sends a clear message that there are consequences to denying people their constitutionally-protected rights,” said CAIR-MN Executive Director Lori Saroya. “Catholic churches and Jewish synagogues faced this same bigotry less than 100 years ago in our country. This vicious cycle ends here. No other community should go through this.”

She added that the case in St. Anthony is one of six Muslim land use opposition incidents in Minnesota over the past two years. The other proposals — in Blaine, Plymouth, Willmar, and Bloomington — were eventually approved despite community opposition. The St. Cloud mosque proposal was withdrawn.

In June 2012, the St. Anthony City Council voted 4 to 1 to deny a conditional use permit for the Islamic center, despite a recommendation by the St. Anthony Planning Commission to approve the project. The project had been on hold since a March 2012 moratorium by the council.

At the June council meeting, the proposed Islamic center faced opposition from intolerant speakers who, Islamic center proponents assert, clearly exposed the real reason for the delay and ultimate 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.”

Islamic center proponents said the city allowed similarly situated secular assemblies in the same building while denying a religious assembly, a possible violation of RLUIPA’s “Equal Terms” provision.

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.

The DOJ has launched investigations into dozens of cases nationwide involving local denials of mosque construction applications.

One of the most controversial anti-mosque efforts nationwide involved a campaign by Islamophobes to block construction of a new Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn. That Islamic center opened its doors in August 2012 after intervention by the DOJ.