Niraj Warikoo , Detroit Free Press
(Photo: Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press)
A new mosque is to be built in Sterling Heights after the city reached an agreement Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Justice and the American Islamic Community Center, which had sued the city after it had rejected their plans.
Attorneys for the American Islamic Community Center cheered the settlements, calling it a victory for religious freedom and the Muslim-American community, which was concerned after the city in 2015 had initially denied permission for the center to build a mosque on 15 Mile Rd. Residents who objected to the mosque said it was not suited for the area, which they said was more residential.
The amount of money paid by the city for the settlement is confidential, said attorneys for the mosque. Once built, the new Islamic center will be the third mosque in Sterling Heights.
“Today is a victory for the U.S. Constitution which continues to withstand the test of time,” said mosque attorney Azzam Elder. “Its a proud day for every American especially American Muslims who are residents of Sterling Heights.”
In August, the Islamic center sued the city, claiming that religious prejudice against Muslims played a role in the decision to deny the mosque. In December, the Justice Department filed a separate lawsuit against the city making similar allegations. Both lawsuits allege that Sterling Heights violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which says the government can’t be biased against any religion when making land use decisions.
Two agreements were reached this week, one between the mosque and Sterling Heights, and the other between the Justice Department and Sterling Heights.
” “This settlement is a win for religious liberty not only for the Muslim community in Sterling Heights but for all faith based communities,” said another mosque attorney, Dan Dalton.
The agreements come after two years of heated debate in the city over the mosque. At times, some residents made anti-Islam comments during public discussions over the mosque. Sterling Heights is a diverse city where 23% of the city’s residents are immigrants, one of the highest percentages among cities in metro Detroit. Iraqi-American Christians (Chaldeans/Assyrians/Syriacs) make up 12% of Sterling Height’s 131,000 residents, according to 2013 Census figures.
At times, the debate pitted some Iraqi-American Christians against Muslims who supported the mosque. The area near the mosque is a center of Chaldean (Iraqi Catholic) life in the area, with Iraqi restaurants, centers, and groceries. A 11,500-square-foot center, the Chaldean Community Foundation, is on 15 Mile close to where the proposed mosque would be.
Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor said the city welcomes religious diversity, noting that the city also has two other mosques, as well as Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, and numerous Christian houses of worship.
“Settling these lawsuits at this time is in the best interest of all the residents of Sterling Heights, and allows both the City and the AICC (American Islamic Community Center) to move forward,” Taylor said in a statement. “Sterling Heights is a community that has and continues to welcome all faiths. The addition of the Mosque as a place of worship will add to the wide variety of places of worship across the City.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo