(CN) – The Justice Department Thursday sued a suburb of Detroit for refusing to allow a Muslim organization to build a mosque.
The U.S. Department of Justice accuses the city government of Troy, Michigan, of discriminating against the Adam Community Center by repeatedly denying the group’s zoning-related requests.
“Zoning laws that treat mosques, churches, synagogues, and other religious assemblies less favorably than nonreligious assemblies illegally restrict religious exercise in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act,” said Eric Dreiband, the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.
The suburbs of Detroit are home to the highest concentration of Muslims in the U.S.
Troy, which is located about 23 miles northwest of Detroit has a strong Muslim presence, but no mosque.
"The City of Troy is one of the largest communities in Michigan in both land size and population,” said Amy Doukoure, staff attorney with the Council on Islamic-American Relations. “It is appalling to think that they could have 73 places of worship for other faiths, but that in this day and age, the city is not home to a single mosque."
The council previously filed suit against Troy in federal court in 2018. The case, which also claims the town’s zoning laws are discriminatory, is still pending.
A Troy employee in the city attorney’s office said the city had yet to be formally served and had no comment. Troy City Attorney Lori Bluhm did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
In the civil suit filed by the Justice Department, the government says Adam Community Center found a property on which it wished to build a mosque and applied for variances to comply with setback requirements and parking limitations imposed by the city.
Such requirements are not imposed on secular institutions such as conference facilities, fraternal organizations and clubs, according to the suit.
“Troy is obligated to treat religious assemblies and institutions on equal terms with nonreligious
assemblies and institutions,” said Matthew Schneider, the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Michigan.
The Adam Community Center is currently holding religious services in the basement of an office building that is functionally inadequate, particularly for well-attended prayers, birthday parties, funerals and weddings, the complaint states.
Members of the religious group are instead forced to disperse throughout the region and attend mosques in other communities.
The Adam Community Center began searching for a mosque site in 2009, finally landing upon a former restaurant in 2013, the complaint states. The city granted approval initially, but then reversed course redefining the application as a “place of worship,” subject to more onerous setbacks.
The owner of the former restaurant site eventually sold the property to a different buyer.
After five more failed attempts, the community center finally landed upon a 20,000-square-foot building replete with a restaurant, banquet hall and a large parking lot ideal for its purpose of providing a place for community worship and religious education, the complaint states.
In 2018, the community center entered into a purchase agreement to buy the parcel for $2 million, but it first needed to obtain permission from the city to alter a few requirements so the center could use the entirety of the space.
In June 2018, the city’s zoning board denied Adam Community Center’s requests for variances, despite the fact such variances would not have been necessary had the building hosted secular organizations, according to the complaint.
“The city cannot demonstrate that the denial of Adam’s variance requests advanced a compelling government interest,” the Justice Department said in the complaint. “Nor can it demonstrate that there are no less restrictive means to accomplish any purported interests than by denying Adam’s variance requests.”
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