DETROIT (CN) – A Detroit suburb agreed to settle claims of religious discrimination stemming from city officials’ rejection of an Islamic center’s bid to build a new mosque, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
The agreement, subject to approval from the Eastern Michigan federal court, was hatched after Justice Department attorneys filed a lawsuit against the city of Sterling Heights in December.
The American Islamic Community Center’s space in nearby Madison Heights had become too cramped and the group wished to build an updated facility 11 miles away in Sterling Heights. But the city thwarted the plan when it refused to rezone parcels of residential land to accommodate the building after several Sterling Heights residents voiced disapproval at hearings held during an election season.
The Justice Department alleged the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA, by rejecting the AICC’s mosque.
When the lawsuit was filed, the city rejected the accusation, saying in a statement that the mosque application was denied “based on established land use criteria including the incompatibility with adjoining uses, insufficient parking, as well as overall size and height of the building, and not emotional feelings tied to religious beliefs either for or against the applicant.”
However, under the settlement announced Wednesday, Sterling Heights agreed to allow construction of the mosque, promote nondiscrimination policies, undergo training on the requirements of RLUIPA, and submit periodic updates to the Justice Department.
An 18-page consent order says Sterling Heights specifically denies any allegations of wrongdoing.
“The law protects people of all religions from discrimination or unnecessary obstacles when they seek to build a place of worship,” Eastern Michigan U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade said in a statement. “Thanks to this settlement, the AICC will be able to build a mosque where its members can gather for religious and community events. I grew up in Sterling Heights, and I am proud that the city is taking steps to protect the religious rights of all of its residents.”
A separate settlement resolving a similar lawsuit brought by the AICC against Sterling Heights has also been submitted for approval, according to the Justice Department.