SETTLEMENT REACHED WITH LILBURN, GEORGIA, OVER RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION CASE INVOLVING MUSLIM GROUP
August 26, 2011
U.S. Attorney’s Office, Justice Department Filed Complaint; City To Change Zoning
ATLANTA, GA- The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia and the Justice Department in Washington D.C. today announced a federal settlement with the city of Lilburn, Ga., resolving allegations that the city violated the “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000" (“RLUIPA”) when it rejected the Dar-E-Abbas Shia Islamic Center's requests for rezoning to construct a mosque. The settlement, which must still be approved by a federal district judge in Atlanta, resolves a lawsuit between the United States and the city of Lilburn.
United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said, “Religious freedom requires that local government decisions impacting the exercise of that freedom be free of discrimination. The City of Lilburn twice failed to approve rezoning permits to allow building a mosque, and the complaint alleges that the rejection was because the applicants are Muslims. We are pleased that the City is settling the lawsuit and that the rezoning issue is being resolved.”
“Religious freedom is among our most fundamental rights. Under federal law, cities may not use their zoning laws to discriminate against religious groups seeking to build places of worship. We are pleased that we have reached an agreement with the city of Lilburn that requires equal treatment of all religious organizations,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to ensure that freedom of religion in the United States is a reality for persons of all faiths.”
According to United States Attorney Yates and the Complaint, the case arose out of the city's rejection of two applications by Dar-E-Abbas to rezone property to build a Mosque. The members of Dar-E-Abbas, who are Shia Muslims, refer to the place of worship they seek to build as an “imambargah.” The term “mosque” is more generically used to refer to a building used for worship by Muslims. The government's complaint alleges that the city's rejection of the rezoning applications was based on the religious bias of city officials and to appease members of the public opposed to the construction of a mosque based on religious bias. The complaint further alleges that the city treated Dar-E-Abbas differently than non-Muslim religious groups that regularly have been granted similar rezoning requests. Last week, fulfilling part of its settlement with the United States, the city voted to approve the zoning application.
The city of Lilburn has agreed, as part of settlement, not to impose different zoning or building requirements on Dar-E-Abbas or other religious groups, and to publicize its nondiscrimination policies and practices. The city also agreed that its leaders, managers, and certain other city employees will attend training on the requirements of RLUIPA. In addition, the city will adopt new procedures that clarify its complaint process for zoning and permitting decisions regarding houses of worship, and will report periodically to the Justice Department.
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 prohibits religious discrimination in land use and zoning decisions. Persons who believe that they been subjected to religious discrimination in land use or zoning may contact the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division at 1-800-896-7743. More information about RLUIPA, including a report on the first ten years of its enforcement, may be found at: http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/rluipaexplain.php.
Assistant United States Attorney Aileen Bell Hughes is representing the United States for the Northern District of Georgia in this legal action.
For further information please contact Sally Q. Yates, United States Attorney, or Charysse L. Alexander, Executive Assistant United States Attorney, through Patrick Crosby, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Attorney's Office, at (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the HomePage for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia is www.justice.gov/usao/gan.