US alleges Chicago suburb discriminated against Muslim group

AP News
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Posted: Sep 30, 2015 7:43 PM

CHICAGO (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday sued a suburban Chicago community that denied a Muslim group permission to open a place of worship in an office building in a manufacturing district.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, accuses the city of Des Plaines of violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a 2000 federal law that bars the use of zoning, parking and other ordinances to thwart the practice of someone's religion.

At issue is the city's 2013 decision to refuse the American Islamic Center use of the space for worship. The center has about 180 members, most of whom are Bosnian Muslims who fled what was then Yugoslavia amid war in the 1990s.

The lawsuit alleges that Des Plaines, a city of about 60,000 people northwest of Chicago, sought to impose parking and other zoning criteria on the center that had never been imposed on non-Islamic groups. The suit says that the American Islamic Center has gone without a place of worship as a result of the city action.

Des Plaines city spokeswoman Linda DeTomasi declined immediate comment on the lawsuit.

City officials have previously cited traffic and parking concerns for not approving the American Islamic Center plans. Others said they worried about a loss of tax revenue if the building was rezoned for a non-commercial, religious use.

The 28-page civil suit asks a federal judge to order Des Plaines to let the center use the office space for worship.

The American Islamic Center bought the property in February 2013 contingent on rezoning approval. The City Council denied it on a 5-3 vote six months later. Aldermen at the time denied discrimination played any role in their decision.

"I think this is a good group of people, and would love to have you in Des Plaines," Alderman Mark Walsten said during a meeting on the issue in 2013. "I'm just not seeing this is the proper place."

The lack of a place of worship for the Islamic group, the suit says, has "hindered in conducting weddings, celebrating births and providing funeral prayer services" and, in general, meant "interfaith activities are limited in scope and intensity."

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