AG Says Chicago Suburb Singled Out Muslims

     CHICAGO (CN) – An Illinois city wrongly denied a Muslim group’s worship-center zoning application after granting similar requests from Christians and Buddhists, the U.S. government claims.
     The Des Plaines City Counsel voted 5-3 in 2013 to deny a rezoning request made by the American Islamic Center, or AIC, according to a lawsuit filed by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. The government sued the City of Des Plaines, Ill., in Federal Court on Wednesday, claiming violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
     AIC sought to rezone a vacant office building in a manufacturing zone to an “institutional” zone so that it could build a worship center, according to court records.
     Its application proposed a worship space of 3,661 square feet, to be used for Friday prayer services, Sunday afternoon prayers, nightly prayers during Ramadan, as well as youth group events and other small gatherings.
     AIC made multiple adjustments to the original plan in order to satisfy the city’s parking requirements. It was forced to bear additional costs due to the city traffic engineer’s insistence that it conduct a traffic study before approving its application, even though the center had proved it had enough off-street parking under the zoning ordinance, according to the government.
     But despite clearing these additional hurdles, the city council still rejected the application, with multiple aldermen citing concerns about loss of tax revenue.
     “The city has approved numerous nonprofit uses that were similarly situated to AIC, and has never relied on loss of tax revenue to deny zoning approval for a non-Muslim place of worship or other nonprofit land use in the city,” Lynch’s lawsuit states.
     The complaint also says that some aldermen indicated disbelief that the worship center would serve members of their own community.
     “During the hearing, Alderman [Dick] Sayad repeatedly asked AIC members where they came from. Alderman Sayad continued to ask this question even after he was informed that 25 percent of AIC members already lived in the city and after it was explained that AIC members separated from a mosque in Northbrook, IL, and were looking to relocate in an area convenient for their membership,” the complaint states. “Alderman Sayad suggested that AIC members stay in Northbrook, or consider locating to other communities such as Glenview or Palatine, rather than Des Plaines.”
     Aldermen who voted to deny the request also focused on the issue of safety, saying that additional traffic around the proposed Muslim worship center might endanger children, according to the lawsuit.
     However, in recent years, Des Plaines approved rezoning applications allowing three Christian churches, two schools, and a Buddhist temple to occupy land on a commercial or residential-zoned property – all of which involved losses of tax revenue and increased traffic impacts similar to AIC’s request, Lynch says.
     The government claims that Des Plaines’ “treatment and denial of AIC’s rezoning request constitutes the imposition or implementation of a land use regulation that imposes a substantial burden on AIC’s religious exercise” and discriminates against AIC on the basis of religion.
     Lynch seeks a court order requiring the city to allow AIC to proceed with the purchase of the property and the construction of its worship center.

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