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Justice News

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Justice Department Files Suit Against Sterling Heights, Michigan, Over Denial of Zoning Approval for a Mosque

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit today against Sterling Heights, Michigan, alleging that the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when it denied special land use approval to allow the American Islamic Community Center Inc. (AICC) to build a mosque on five adjoining parcels of land located in the city.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan, alleges that Sterling Heights discriminated against the AICC on the basis of religion when it refused to approve the land use request to allow the AICC to build a mosque.  It further alleges that the denial imposed a substantial burden on the AICC’s religious exercise.  The AICC, currently located in Madison Heights, Michigan, sought to build in Sterling Heights because the location is more convenient for its members and its current space has become inadequate for its religious, educational and social needs.  The complaint alleges that its current facility is overcrowded during important religious observances and lacks space for educational activities, youth activities and special events.

“The Constitution protects the rights of religious communities to create the institutions and physical spaces they need to observe and practice their faith free from discriminatory barriers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.  “The Justice Department will continue to aggressively protect the rights of all communities to live, pray and worship free from religious discrimination and substantial burdens in local land use decisions.”

“The law prohibits the government from discriminating on the basis of religion or imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion when making land use decisions,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan.  “We are alleging that Sterling Heights discriminated against the American Islamic Community Center on the basis of religion and placed a substantial burden on the community’s ability to exercise its religion by denying approval to build a mosque.  We filed this lawsuit to protect the rights of all of our citizens to freely practice their religion and have a place to gather with members of their community.”

The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct.  The allegations must still be proven in federal court.

The case was brought by the department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Michigan.

RLUIPA, enacted in 2000, contains multiple provisions prohibiting religious discrimination and protecting against unjustified burdens on religious exercise.  Persons who believe that they been subjected to religious discrimination in land use or zoning may contact the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at (800) 896-7743 or the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Michigan’s Civil Rights Hotline at (313) 226-9151 or usamie.civilrights@usdoj.gov.

More information about RLUIPA, including a report on the department’s enforcement, may be found at www.justice.gov/crt/religious-land-use-and-institutionalized-persons-act.

Sterling Heights Complaint

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 
Updated December 15, 2016