A lawsuit was filed in late September by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) against the city of Des Plaines, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, following the city’s refusal to allow a vacant office building to be used as a mosque.
The DOJ’s basis for the suit is to uphold the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which says governments cannot “impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or institution.”
In the October 2015 edition of its “Religious Freedom in Focus” publication, the DOJ provided additional context for the suit.
The American Islamic Center (AIC) selected an office building that had been unoccupied for three years as the location to establish a permanent mosque.
“AIC signed a purchase agreement and applied to the city to rezone the property from Manufacturing to Institutional use, but was denied,” the publication explained.
The report also noted that this denial is inconsistent with the city’s plans to turn the area into a residential-mixed use neighborhood, that it has approved previously similar rezoning requests for other faith groups, and that other criteria “never imposed on non-Muslim places of worship” were set forth by the city as reasons for denying the request.
The DOJ’s principal deputy assistant attorney general, Vanita Gupta, said, “The ability to establish a place for collective worship is a fundamental protection of the First Amendment and our civil rights laws. The Justice Department will remain vigilant in its mission to ensure that all religious groups enjoy the right to practice their faiths freely.”
In early September, just prior to the DOJ suit, the largest Muslim organization in the U.S., the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), held its 52nd annual convention in Rosemont, Illinois, four miles south of Des Plaines.
The convention theme was “Stories of Resilience: Strengthening the American Muslim Narrative,” with workshops focused on strengthening families, challenging stereotypes and negative narratives, caring for creation, engaging in community service, countering violent extremism, promoting religious freedom for all, among other issues.
Elijah Brown, executive vice president of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, a Baptist-led organization seeking to promote and protect religious freedom worldwide, called attention to the suit in an email alert.
Calling it “one of the most important alerts I have written this year,” Brown noted, though “the number of Muslims is relatively small, among many Americans there seems to be a palpable fear of Islam.”
After citing several examples of what has been labeled “Islamophobia,” Brown emphasized that “Christians have a particular responsibility to model the teaching of Genesis 1:26-28 with its implication to love and value the image of God displayed in each and every person.”
“This value must be extended into our social and political definitions of religious freedom and – just as critically – into our language and community relationships,” he added. “Religious freedom is not only a basic human right, but it also challenges us to build relationships with those in our communities who adhere to other faiths.”
Brown suggested EthicsDaily.com’s documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims,” as a resource for Christians to engage in more positive conversations about and engagements with U.S. Muslims.
Two ISNA leaders, Sayyid Syeed and Mohamed Magid, were interviewees in the film, which highlights positive stories of Christians and Muslims collaborating for the common good around a shared call to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
More information about the film, including video clips, production photos and related articles, can be found at DifferentBooksCommonWord.com.