Justice Department Files Suit Against City of Des Plaines for Refusing to Allow Islamic Center to Operate in Vacant Office Building
CHICAGO — The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit against the City of Des Plaines, alleging that the northwest suburb violated federal law when it refused to allow an Islamic group to operate a place of worship in a vacant office building.
The suit contends that Des Plaines discriminated against the American Islamic Center when it refused to grant a rezoning request to allow AIC to set up a place of worship in a vacant office building it had contracted to purchase. The city imposed parking standards and other zoning criteria that were not supported under its zoning ordinance and that had never been imposed on non-Islamic places of worship, according to the suit.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago. It alleges that Des Plaines violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
“The ability to establish a place for collective worship is a fundamental protection of the First Amendment and our civil rights laws,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will remain vigilant in its mission to ensure that all religious groups enjoy the right to practice their faiths freely.”
“The freedom to practice the religion of one’s choosing is a precious right in our country,” said Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “We will continue to enforce the laws that protect this important right.”
AIC is a non-profit religious organization of Bosnian Muslims. Most of its 180 members came to the United States in the 1990s as refugees from war-torn Yugoslavia. In February 2013, AIC entered into a contract to purchase property at 1645 Birchwood Avenue in Des Plaines. The contract to purchase the property was contingent upon rezoning it to allow its use as an institutional place of worship.
The Des Plaines City Council denied the rezoning request in July 2013. As a result, AIC has been without a place of worship for more than two years, the suit contends.
RLUIPA, enacted in 2000, contains multiple provisions prohibiting religious discrimination and protecting against unjustified burdens on the exercise of religion. 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.
The government is represented by Ms. Gupta, Steven H. Rosenbaum, Timothy J. Moran, Eric W. Treene and Ryan G. Lee of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section; and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael J. Kelly and Patrick W. Johnson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois.