Michigan Community’s Anti-Muslim Furor Derailed Plans for Mosque
By Jack Bouboushian Courthouse News Service
(CN) — Discrimination torpedoed plans for a mosque in Sterling Heights, Michigan, one group claims in a federal complaint, pointing to community hearings in which residents said all Muslims "are killers" and that women who wear burqas are "scary and disgusting."
The American Islamic Community Center says it currently meets in Madison Heights, but that 80 percent of its members live in Sterling Heights.
After years searching for a suitable site for its mosque, an ideal location went up for sale last year along Fifteen Mile Road, according to the complaint (pdf) filed Aug. 10.
The center says its site plan for a 20,500-square-foot mosque met all of the city's requirements, and city planning staff approved it, but that its chance at a zoning permit disintegrated after two hostile hearings before the planning commission.
"With a vociferous and racist member of the Planning Commission leading the charge, the planning commission voted to reject the site plan," the complaint states.
In addition to suffering xenophobic objections from residents, the center says one planning commission member even posted "highly offensive anti-Muslim memes on social media demonstrating both his bias and ignorance toward plaintiff."
At the Aug. 13 public hearing on the mosque proposal, according to the complaint, one resident stated ... "I don't want to be near people like this. This is not humanity. My point is that it's not right to live with people like this ... this is not acceptable at all. These people ... they are scaring the public."
Another wondered where the money for the mosque had come from, telling the commission that "all Muslims who live in America are on food stamps," according to the complaint.
"They are killers," this resident allegedly added.
The center says its zoning application also faced an unprecedented FBI background check, after the mayor's office received emails questioning whether anyone affiliated with the proposed mosque was "on the terrorist watch list."
"Such conduct by the Chief of Police has created fear and anxiety among the city's Muslim residents," the complaint states. "Here you have a chief of police with the power to open investigations, instead resorting to McCarthyism like tactics without proper regard for evidence which only hurts law abiding citizens, and their hard earned reputations."
When the planning commission held a second public hearing on the mosque proposal according to the complaint, hundreds rallied outside city hall, chanting "no more mosque."
The center says the Sept. 10 meeting was filled to its 240-person capacity, and that the planning commission shared a staff report at this hearing that raised issues never before brought to its attention.
Though its zoning permit was voted down, the center says the planning commission had previously approved similar variances for three churches and one Sikh temple.
The center says it cannot buy the property, which it is currently leasing, without the sought-after zoning approval.
It is represented by Daniel Dalton with Dalton & Tomich in Detroit and Azzam Elder in Dearborn, Michigan.
Elder has also asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the matter.
"We all know of a time in our history when sentiments in America were anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-German, anti-Japanese or anti-Black, and those times have forever stained on our history," Elder said in a statement the Detroit News reported Wednesday. "In fact today, we still suffer from remnants of the damage caused."
"As defenders of the U.S. Constitution, we are confident that there will come a day when it will also be inconceivable to be anti-Muslim," the attorney added. "This is why we filed this lawsuit, in order to continue the struggle of protecting the rights of all minority groups in America."
Sterling Heights spokeswoman Bridget Doyle declined to comment, stating that the city had not yet been served with the lawsuit.
To Learn More:
American Islamic Community Center v. City of Sterling Heights (U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan) (pdf)
Justice Department Says Town Discriminated Against Muslims (by Brandi Buchman, Courthouse News Service)
Palm Beach Mosque Withdrawn as Polling Site after Anti-Islamic Voter Backlash (by Terry Spencer, Associated Press)
Tennessee County Continues to Oppose Allowing Muslims to Worship at New Mosque Depite Court Ruling (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Controversial New York Islamic Center Opens…Without Controversy (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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