The United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the city of St. Anthony, Minnesota, for refusing a special permit to a mosque in 2012. According to United States Attorney Andrew Luger, the city council implemented its zoning laws unfairly, which is why the federal government is trying to acquire an injunction that will undo the panel’s vote.
“An injustice has been done. And it is my job as the united states attorney to enforce the constitution and protect the civil rights of all members of our community, including Abu Huraira,” said Luger.
A small group of Somali immigrants came together to form a religious group called Abu Huraira Islamic Center in 2009. They hoped to build a worship center in the small suburban town that runs along the borders of northeast Minneapolis. After years of looking for an appropriate location, the group set its eyes on the old Medtronic building on Old Highway. They planned to use the basement as the worship center and lease out the higher floors for commercial purposes.
St Anthony’s administration encouraged the group initially. They were informed about their chosen spot being zoned as light industrial, which meant that Abu Huraira would have to acquire a Conditional Use Permit. Following instructions, the group applied for the permit in February 2012 but four months later, their application was rejected by the city council amidst a crowded and controversial public meeting.
“Abu-Huraira's right to hold prayer services in their building, in the city of St. Anthony, is the only resolution we seek. And we will not give up until we receive it,” said Luger.
In a similar case, the city had earlier granted a permit for the Operating Engineers Union Local 49, whose chosen area was also zoned light industrial.
“Denying Abu-Huraira's permit is a departure from much of the prior practice of the city. I am placing the full weight of this office behind this lawsuit, and behind Abu-Huraira's right to be treated just like any other secular or religious group,” he said.
The city’s attorney Jay Lindgren said St. Anthony would fight the lawsuit in court.
“We believe that there was no discrimination. This is really a very simple matter. This is about Saint Anthony only allowing religious uses in the parts of the city that are not industrial zoned,” said Lindgren.
Lindgren said a Christian church was also rejected by the same city council members after they voted against the Islamic Center because their chosen site too was zoned light industrial.
“In most every other part of the city all religious uses are welcome. This has nothing to do with any one particular religion. This has to do with protecting the job creation in the industrial zone,” Lindgren explained.
He also said that a special permit has been granted earlier to the Twin Cities Christian Assembly because their building happened to be located in a commercial zone rather than an industrial one.
The federal lawsuit alleges that the city administration started a zoning law change while Abu Huraira’s application was still pending to show that religious structures are not allowed in light industrial zones. Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Minnesota chapter had urged the federal government to look into the matter and they have welcomed the lawsuit.
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