An American-Islamic group filed a complaint against the city of Des Plaines in federal court Monday, claiming the city violated the group’s right to religious freedom by denying a zoning permit for a new mosque.
The American Islamic Center, a Bosnian organization of 160 members, has been seeking a place for its educational and religious activities since March 2011. The group applied for a zoning permit to open a prayer center, day care facility, restaurant and other programs in a former office building at 1645 Birchwood Ave. that has been vacant for two years.
The Des Plaines City Council voted 5-3 to deny the request in July.
“We are not happy that we have to file this lawsuit and were hoping that the city council of Des Plaines would accommodate our religious needs,” said Iman Senad Agic, leader of the American Islamic Center. “We are disappointed, upset and humiliated by the stubborn decision of the city of Des Plaines.”
The Imam said many members of the community are refugees from the Bosnian conflict of the 1990s in Eastern Europe.
The Des Plaines City Council cited concerns about traffic and loss of tax revenue in denying the zoning permit.
“This case is about religious discrimination,” said Anthony Peraica, the attorney representing the American Islamic Center. “We believe that this was done for discriminatory reasons–reasons not allowed by the U.S. Constitution.”
According to a press release from CAIR, the center’s zoning proposal to Des Plaines included extensive traffic studies that found Birchwood Avenue carries a low volume of traffic and has adequate capacity to accommodate the center’s activities.
When presented with proposals for the mosque, the city’s zoning board unanimously recommended that the council approve the zoning permit, according to Peraica.
The Daily Herald reported in July that aldermen have expressed concern about the loss of property tax revenue from the building if it was zoned for a religious purpose. The property generated $95,000 in property taxes in 2013, according to their reports.
The city council’s decision violates the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), Peraica said.
“We believe that the city council’s decision was specious and violated federal law,” Peraica said. “RLUIPA was designed to protect religious institutions facing such baseless denials of zoning changes.”
Peraica added that the facility would include a restaurant, travel agency and other businesses that would generate tax revenue for the city.
The Muslim community in Des Plaines has been renting space in the Islamic Center of Rolling Meadow for two years, according to the Imam. Establishing a center at 1645 Birchwood Ave. would give the American Islamic Center a permanent location, he said.
Ahmen Rehab, executive director of CAIR, said the denial to use the location for a mosque is not based on any good reason and that “it falls under a wave of xenophobia.”