Federal Gov. Suing St. Anthony over Rejection of Islamic Center

Updated: 08/27/2014 7:06 PM
Created: 08/27/2014 3:25 PM
By: Cassie Hart

The federal government is suing the city of St. Anthony for rejecting a proposed Islamic center a couple of years ago.

The U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger announced a civil rights lawsuit at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. The announcement follows a recent notice of intent to sue sent by the U.S. Department of Justice alleging religious discrimination.

The complaint alleges that the St. Anthony Village City Council treated the group's application for a conditional use permit at the St. Anthony Business Center on less-than-equal terms as other, non-religious permits to assemble. The suit contends denying the permit made it difficult for the group's members to practice their faith.

A spokeswoman says the U.S. attorney's office in Minneapolis tried to reach an out-of-court agreement with the parties during a two-year investigation. The DOJ launched an investigation in October 2012 into whether the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

St. Anthony's city council voted 4-1 to reject the proposed Abu Huraira Islamic Center, saying a religious and cultural center wasn't compatible with the site's light-industrial zoning. More than 150 people attended the meeting, some of whom spoke out against the center.

The rejection comes even though a Christian church received a similar permit in the area.

A statement from the city said there was no discrimination. The statement reads, in part, "The City Council's decision to deny the conditional use permit for the Abu Huraira Islamic Center was made only after months of a study and careful consideration of the impacts of allowing an assembly use in a zoning district specifically set aside for industrial uses. The decision is consistent with a past action of the council and with sound land use policy. The decision is not a violation of RLUIPA." Read the full statement here.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) released a statement that reads, in part,"We applaud this decision in support of religious freedom and hope for a speedy resolution to the case so that the local Muslim community may have access to the facilities required to meet its needs."

The Associated Press contributed to this event.

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