DOJ Sues Illinois City For Allegedly Blocking Islamic Center

| by Sean Kelly
Islamic Community Center in Des Plaines, IllinoisIslamic Community Center in Des Plaines, Illinois

On Sept. 30, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against the city of Des Plaines, Illinois, after city officials reportedly imposed parking and zoning regulations on a potential Islamic worship center — regulations that weren’t imposed on other, non-Muslim places of worship.

The DOJ's lawsuit claims that the city, which has 42 places of worship, “imposed a substantial burden” on the American Islamic Center (AIC) after the religious organization tried to purchase an abandoned office building, The Huffington Post reports. The AIC, which doesn’t have a permanent location, was denied permission to rezone the office building.

According to the suit, city officials treated the rezoning application differently for the AIC than other places of worship. A city planner reportedly told a traffic engineer to look at parking problems that had occurred at the only other Muslim place of worship in Des Plaines. The city also allegedly cited tax revenue losses in their denial of the AIC's application, despite the fact that they had previously approved zoning applications for other tax-exempt religious organizations.

Earlier in September, the Bosnian Muslim congregation that runs the AIC filed a lawsuit against the city, the Chicago Tribune reported. The lawsuit, which was filed on Sept. 14, was regarding the same incident that the DOJ is citing in its lawsuit.

“We are not happy that we have to file this lawsuit,” Imam Senad Agic told the Chicago Tribune at the time. “We are hoping the City Council of Des Plaines would understand our religious needs."

The AIC's lawsuit claimed that Des Plaines and five aldermen had violated its religious freedom by not letting them use the vacant building.

The five aldermen named in the suit maintained that putting any house of worship in an industrial park, where the office building is located, would endanger pedestrians.

“I don't care if they're Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, whatever. It's not zoned for that particular area,” Alderman Mark Walsten, who was named in the suit, said. “Whenever there are children involved in an industrial area, I will not have that on my conscience."

Both the AIC's lawsuit and the DOJ's lawsuit against the city were filed under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Acts of 2000 (RLUIPA). RLUIPA contain provisions against religious discrimination and unjustified burdens on religion exercise, according to the DOJ.

“The ability to establish a place for collective worship is a fundamental protection of the First Amendment and our civil rights laws,” Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “The Justice Department will remain vigilant in its mission to ensure that all religious groups enjoy the right to practice their faiths freely.” 

Sources: Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, DOJ / Photo credit: iccofdesplaines.com, Joe Gratz/Flickr