The U.S. government is suing a Minnesota city for alleged religious discrimination for denying the building of an Islamic center in 2012, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said Wednesday.
According to the Star Tribune, the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, accuses the St. Anthony Village City Council of treating the group's application for a conditional use permit at the St. Anthony Business Center unfairly in relation to non-religious permits to assemble, and also of making it difficult for Muslims to practice their faith.
"Freedom of religion and the right to assembly peaceably are enshrined for all Americans in the Bill of Rights," Luger said in a news release. "The people of Abu Huraira have a right to assembly peaceably - they have a right to practice their religion, and it's our job to enforce that right."
However, the city contends that there was no discrimination.
"The City of St. Anthony Village welcomes all religious faiths into our community. The conditional use permit was denied based on the appropriate need to restrict assembly and religious uses within the very limited amount of industrial area within the city," the statement said.
It "was not based on discrimination at all," said City Attorney Jay Lindgren, adding that that the city denied another Christian organization's request in the past few years that was similar to that of the Islamic center.
On their part, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is excited about the lawsuit.
"We applaud this decision in support of religious freedom and hope for a speedy resolution to the case so that the local Muslim community may have access to the facilities required to meet its needs," CAIR-MN civil rights attorney Ellen Longfellow said in a statement.
St. Anthony's City Council voted 4-1 in 2012 to reject the proposed Abu Huraira Islamic Center, saying a religious and cultural center wasn't compatible with the site's light-industrial zoning. The council's decision went against the city planning commission's recommendation to approve the 15,000-square-foot center in the former Medtronic Inc. headquarters.
More than 150 people attended the meeting, and some reportedly spoke out against the Muslim faith.
Jim Roth, the only council member to vote in favor of the center, said he was "embarrassed" and "stunned" by of the comments.
Shortly after, three churches in the city reportedly held an interfaith meeting to counter some of the negative comments made at the council meeting.
"Some things had been said ... that sounded unwelcoming and unfriendly. There was a desire to show a different face on things," said the Rev. Paul La Fontaine of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, which co-sponsored the event. "It was an opportunity to get together and see some other people. Everyone is interested in having a good job and raising a family."