DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Federal prosecutors are suing a Detroit suburb after a religious organization’s proposal for a mosque in a residential neighborhood was denied.
In the 20-page complaint filed in federal court, the U.S. Attorney’s office alleges that the city of Sterling Heights discriminated against the American Islamic Community Center last summer when it rejected a request to build a mosque along 15 Mile Road between Ryan and Mound.
Planning commissioners voted in 2015 against a special land agreement sought by the American Islamic Community Center — even after the group had signed a lease with an option to purchase the property.
Some residents protested the plan, citing traffic congestion and other concerns. Mosque supporters said the issue was anti-Muslim bias.
“During some of the meeting there were statements made that were anti-Musilm in tone,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade. “So this lawsuit alleges that the city has acted with a discriminatory intent in denying permission to build a mosque on the city.”
The lawsuit says the denial constitutes discrimination on the basis of religion and imposed a “burden on the religious exercise” on the center.
Meantime, Sterling Heights contends that the center’s application denial was not based on “emotional feelings tied to religious beliefs either for or against the applicant.”
Although declining to comment to WWJ Newsradio 950, in a statement released Thursday the city says it has cooperated fully with the department of justice and that city leaders are surprised and disappointed by the lawsuit.
“Sterling Heights has a solid reputation for inclusiveness and tolerance reflected in a wide variety of places of worship across the City, including two existing Mosques, a Sikh Temple, a Buddhist Temple, Christian churches of various denominations and a BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. Sterling Heights is a community that has and continues to welcome diversity through many programs and events,” the statement continues. “For many years, the city has been known in Metro Detroit as a premier community— in large part because of its diverse population representing a wide variety of cultures, ethnicities and race.”
Sterling Heights now has 30 days to formally respond to the lawsuit.
A call for comment from the American Islamic Community Center was not immediately returned.
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