Justice Department and City of St. Anthony Village Resolve Lawsuit Over Denial of Permit for Islamic Center
City of St. Anthony Village Agrees to Allow Abu Huraira Islamic Center a Permit to Worship in St. Anthony Business Center
Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Vanita Gupta and U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota Andrew M. Luger today announced a settlement agreement in principle between the Department of Justice and the City of St. Anthony Village, Minnesota, resolving allegations that the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). In June 2012, the City of St. Anthony Village denied Abu-Huraira Islamic Center’s application for a conditional use permit (CUP) to use the basement of the St. Anthony Business Center for religious assembly. The agreement, which must still be approved by the Saint Anthony City Council and a federal district judge in Minneapolis, will resolve the lawsuit filed in August, 2014 by the United States against the City of St. Anthony Village.
“The Department of Justice will remain vigilant to ensure that the freedom to worship is a reality for all," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “We are pleased that the city worked with us to ensure that the rights of this congregation and others will be protected.”
“Four months ago, my office filed a civil rights lawsuit to protect the religious freedoms of the congregants of the Abu-Huraira Islamic Center,” said U.S. Attorney Luger. “We made it clear then that an injustice had been done to these Somali Minnesotans. After lengthy negotiations involving attorneys from my office and the Department of Justice, St. Anthony Village, and Abu-Huraira, we have reached a resolution that respects the Constitution and provides the worship space that Abu-Huraira sought. This agreement would not have been possible without the guiding hand of Magistrate Judge Jeffrey J. Keyes, whose wisdom and hard work brought us to this resolution. Today we all join together to announce with great pride that the Abu-Huraira Islamic Center has a new home in St. Anthony Village.”
The city has agreed, in principle, to create a Planned Use Development (PUD) at the property in question. The PUD will allow Abu-Huraira to use the St. Anthony Business Center for religious worship. The agreed upon language also stipulates that the city of St. Anthony Village will not treat Abu-Huraira or any other religious groups in a discriminatory manner by application of its zoning laws. The agreement also indicates that elected leaders, managers, and certain city employees will participate in educational training about requirements of RLUIPA. The city of St. Anthony Village will also make RLUIPA information available to the public through its website and will report periodically to the Justice Department.
On Aug. 27, 2014, the United States filed a lawsuit to enforce Abu-Huraira Islamic Center’s constitutional rights under RLUIPA and require the city of St. Anthony Village to allow Abu-Huraira’s religious assembly. The United States’ complaint alleged that denial of the permit imposed a substantial burden on Abu-Huraira’s exercise of religious worship. Moreover, the denial unlawfully disfavored a religious use, because the light industrial district where Abu-Huraira’s building is located allowed other, non-religious assemblies.
The United States specifically alleged that the denial of the conditional use permit substantially burdened members of Abu-Huraira in practicing their faith. Abu-Huraira members’ ability to exercise their religion was limited by their worship site options, including, but not limited to, the fact that members in the northern Twin Cities were burdened from praying together based on the length of time to travel to worship centers in south Minneapolis. Moreover, prayer space at locations in south Minneapolis were too small to accommodate members, many of whom often prayed in hallways or entryways, and prayer sessions were held in shifts to accommodate crowds.
After conducting a search for adequate prayer space lasting nearly three years, Abu-Huraira entered into a purchase agreement for the St. Anthony Business Center. Abu-Huraira chose the property because it is centrally located, has a basement measuring approximately 11,600 square feet and has ample parking for its congregation. The business center is in St. Anthony’s “light industrial” district, which permitted conditional uses for “assemblies, meeting lodges, and convention halls” at that time.
In February 2012, after consulting St. Anthony Village officials, Abu-Huraira applied for a CUP for assembly. The permit was denied on June 12, 2012, by a St. Anthony Village City Council vote of 4-1.
Attorneys from the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and Assistant United States Attorneys for the District of Minnesota, Bahram Samie, Ana Voss, and Gregory Brooker, represented the United States in this matter.
RLUIPA, enacted in 2000, contains multiple provisions prohibiting religious discrimination and protecting against unjustified burdens on religion exercise. 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.