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Justice Department Sues City Over Mosque Zoning Permit Denial

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department says that a Michigan city practiced religious discrimination in turning down an Islamic center's request for zoning approval to build a mosque.

The government lawsuit announced today comes after the American Islamic Community Center sued the city in August over the denial. The center wanted to build in Sterling Heights as they said they've outgrown their building in Madison Heights, and most of their members currently live in Sterling Heights.

The city said then that the denial was based on “established land use criteria and not emotional feelings tied to religious beliefs either for or against the applicant.”

The American Islamic Community Center originally submitted the application in 2015, and said in their lawsuit that they met requirements but "with a vociferous and racist member of the planning commission leading the charge, the planning commission voted to reject the site plan."

According to the Detroit News, a former city planner urged rejection of the project because the spires in the construction plan, which spanned five adjoining parcels, were 27 feet taller than the maximum height allowed by the city and the 65-foot dome would “far exceed the height of other structures” nearby, making the scale and height "not harmonious with existing buildings."

Azzam Elder, attorney for the Islamic center, said in the lawsuit that there is evidence of Muslims being spat on, assaulted and threatened at public hearings, incidents that were reported but dropped by police.