MINNEAPOLIS, Oct. 29, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) today welcomed a decision by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to launch a civil rights investigation into the rejection of the planned Abu Huraira Islamic Center in St. Anthony, Minn. The DOJ will investigate whether the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
"We applaud the commitment by the U.S. Department of Justice to uphold federal laws and take a strong stance against recent anti-mosque bigotry in Minnesota and nationwide," said CAIR-MN Executive Director Lori Saroya.
She added that St. Anthony is the fourth mosque opposition incident in Minnesota in the past year. The other three mosque projects - Plymouth, Willmar and Bloomington - were eventually approved despite community opposition.
CAIR-MN asked for the federal investigation in June after the St. Anthony City Council voted 4 to 1 to deny a conditional use permit for the Islamic center, despite a recommendation by the St. Anthony Planning Commission to approve the project. The project had been on hold since a March moratorium by the council.
At the June council meeting, the proposed Islamic center faced opposition from intolerant speakers who -- Islamic center proponents assert -- clearly exposed the real reason for the approval delay and rejection.
Several residents made anti-Muslim comments at the city council hearing, including: "There is no other religion in the world that condones violence. Islam is evil," and, "Where did you come from? [Go] change your own country."
Video: CAIR-MN Says Bias Behind City's Rejection of Islamic Center (KARE11)
Editorial: Is anti-Muslim bias St. Anthony's issue? (Star Tribune)
Video: CAIR-MN Will Ask DOJ to Probe Rejection of Mosque Plan (KSTP)
CAIR-MN: City Council Rejects Islamic Center Plan (Star Tribune)
In August, the Abu Huraira Islamic Center purchased the building. However, mosque leaders are not allowed to use the building as an Islamic center - specifically to convert the first floor into a prayer space.
SEE: Islamic group buys former Medtronic HQ in St. Anthony (Star Tribune) http://www.startribune.com/business/168860966.html
Islamic center proponents said the city allowed similarly situated secular assemblies in the same building while denying a religious assembly, a possible violation of RLUIPA's "Equal Terms" provision.
RLUIPA protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations. RLUIPA and the Minnesota Constitution ban zoning restrictions that impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person or institution unless the government can show that it has a compelling interest for imposing zoning restrictions and that the restriction is the least restrictive way for the government to further that interest.
The DOJ has launched investigations into over 28 cases nationwide involving local denials of mosque construction applications.
SEE: Denial of Mosque Applications Spark Federal Government Investigations
One of the most controversial anti-mosque efforts nationwide involved a campaign by Islamophobes to block construction of a new Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn. That Islamic center opened its doors in August after DOJ intervention.
SEE: After Long Fight, Opening Day for Tennessee Mosque
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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SOURCE Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)