U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger / KARE
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Justice Department is suing the city of St. Anthony, Minn., for denying a mosque's special permit request in 2012.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said Wednesday the city council applied its zoning laws unevenly, and the federal government is seeking an injunction that will, in effect, undo the panel's vote.
"An injustice has been done," Luger told reporters, "And it is my job as the United States attorney to enforce the Constitution and protect the civil rights of all members of our community, including Abu Huraira."
A group of Somali immigrants formed a religious group, Abu Huraira Islamic Center, in 2009 in hopes of establishing a worship center in the small suburb that borders northeast Minneapolis.
After years of trying to find a suitable location, Abu Huraira set its sights on buying a building on a highway in St. Anthony. The plan was to use the basement as a worship center and lease the upper floors to businesses.
The St. Anthony city staff initially encouraged the group. But, because the land was zoned as light industrial, the group was told a conditional use permit would be required. Abu Huraira applied for the permit in February 2012, and in June of that year the city council rejected it after a crowded, contentious public meeting.
"Abu-Huraira's right to hold prayer services in their building, in the city of St. Anthony, is the only resolution we seek," Luger said. "And we will not give up until we receive it."
St. Anthony previously approved a conditional use permit for the Operating Engineers Union Local 49, which is also located in a light industrial zone, allowing the union to rent out its banquet hall to other groups.
Luger asserts such meetings at the union hall constitute assemblies, and that federal law prohibits cities from treating religious meetings differently than secular meetings.
"Denying Abu-Huraira's permit is a departure from much of the prior practice of the city," Lugar remarked.
"I am placing the full weight of this office behind this lawsuit, and behind Abu-Huraira's right to be treated just like any other secular or religious group."
Saint Anthony's city attorney said the city council will fight the lawsuit in court.
"We believe that there was no discrimination. This is really a very simple matter," Jay Lindgren said. "This is about Saint Anthony only allowing religious uses in the parts of the city that are not industrial zoned."
Lindgren said the same city council members also rejected a Christian church in a light industrial zone subsequent to the vote on the Islamic Center.
"In most every other part of the city all religious uses are welcome. This has nothing to do with any one particular religion. This has to do with protecting the job creation in the industrial zone," Lindgren explained.
He said a special use permit was granted previously to the Twin Cities Christian Assembly, but that was for a building located in a commercial zone, rather than an industrial zone.
According to the lawsuit, the city staff initiated a zoning law change while the Abu Huraira application was still pending, in an effort to clearly spell out that religious uses aren't allowed in light industrial zones. That council eventually passed that change the zoning bylaws in 2013, a year after rejecting Abu Huraira.
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations had urged the federal government to investigate and said it welcomed the lawsuit.
Read the original story: Justice Dept. sues Minn. city for denying mosque permit