Justice Department and Sterling Heights Resolve Lawsuit Over Denial of Zoning Approval for a Mosque
The Justice Department today announced a settlement with the city of Sterling Heights, Michigan to resolve allegations that the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) in denying approval to allow the American Islamic Community Center, Inc. (AICC) to build a mosque in the city.
The settlement, which must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, resolves a lawsuit the department filed in December 2016. A separate settlement resolving a similar lawsuit brought by the AICC against the city has also been submitted to the court for approval.
The United States alleged that Sterling Heights discriminated against the AICC on the basis of religion when it denied the application to build a mosque. It further alleged 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.
As part of the settlement, the city has agreed to permit the AICC to construct a mosque in the city. The city has also agreed to publicize its non-discrimination policies and practices, undergo training on the requirements of RLUIPA, and report periodically to the Justice Department.
“Federal law protects the right of faith communities to build places of worship without discrimination or unreasonable burdens on their religious exercise,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We commend the city of Sterling Heights for agreeing to approve the AICC’s mosque, so that it can serve its members and contribute to the surrounding community.”
“The law protects people of all religions from discrimination or unnecessary obstacles when they seek to build a place of worship,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan. “Thanks to this settlement, the AICC will be able to build a mosque where its members can gather for religious and community events. I grew up in Sterling Heights, and I am proud that the city is taking steps to protect the religious rights of all of its residents.”
The case was handled by the department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Michigan.
RLUIPA, enacted in 2000, prohibits religious discrimination and protects against unjustified burdens on religious exercise in, among other things, land use and zoning decisions. People who believe they were subjected to religious discrimination in land use or zoning may contact the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at 1-800-896-7743 or the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Michigan’s Civil Rights Hotline at (313) 226-9151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.