Lawsuit claims settlement with the Justice Department and American Islamic Community Center favored Muslims.
By Beth Dalbey (Patch Staff) –
Seven Sterling Heights residents are suing the city over a recent settlement with the Justice Department that allows the American Islamic Community Center to begin building a mosque. The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, challenges the settlement as a violation of their First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.
Sterling Heights city officials denied permits for the 20,500-square-foot mosque in 2015, saying the 130-spot parking lot was inadequate, and citing traffic congestion, the size of the mosque’s dome, and the height of its spires, originally planned to be 66 feet tall, but dwarfed by the 151-foot steeple at nearby St. Blase Parish.
The Justice Department and the AICC sued the city, saying the city’s action violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 and interfered with AICC members’ exercise of their religious rights.
As part of the settlement announced last month, the mosque will adjust some of its plans to include overflow parking and its spires will now be shortened five feet. The AICC also has agreed not to use an outdoor sound projection for worship calls. The final mosque site plan will still require court approval.
The new lawsuit, filed by the American Freedom Law Center, says plans still are out of compliance with city zoning laws, and that it appears to favor Muslims.
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“Defendants’ purpose for entering into the consent judgment and for the mayor’s actions at the City Council meeting was to favor those who want to build the AICC Mosque over those who oppose it,” the lawsuit stated. “A reasonable observer would conclude that this favors the adherents of Islam over those who are not adherents of Islam.”
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The lawsuit also claims that Mayor Michael Taylor violated the rights of residents who objected to the mosque. At one meeting, he declared the audience “out of order” and cleared the city council chambers. Taylor said officials did nothing wrong.
In an interview with WDIV-TV, Taylor said the city plans to “defend against it pretty vigorously” and “go after them for sanctions for this very frivolous lawsuit.”
Taylor and the city are named as defendants.
Plaintiffs are residents Kamal Anwya, Youhanna Josephine Soro, Wafa Catchco, Marey Jabbo, Debi Rrasi and Megan McHugh, and city planning commissioner Jeffrey Norgrove. Three of the plaintiffs are Chaldean Christians, and another is an Assyrian Christian, who said their families fled their homelands in Iraq and Syria to escape violence and abuse from the Islamic State.
In a news release, the American Freedom Law Center co-founder and senior counsel Robert Muise said:
“It is evident that AICC wanted to ‘plant the flag’ in this Chaldean Christian community by building this huge Mosque. This is a community of Christians, many of whom fled Iraq because they or family members were subjected to violence and abuse from ISIS. Indeed, AICC’s zoning application was a joke. It knew the City would reject it. Consequently, its lawsuit, which has now resulted in the Consent Judgment, was a complete set up. Unfortunately, Sterling Heights isn’t the only place where these Mosque-building tactics are being employed. We will do what we can to stop it.”
Read the complaint below:
Photo via Shuttestock