According to recent reports, the Obama administration is taking on the town of St. Anthony, Minn. for its leaders’ decision to turn down a request to build an Islamic center. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger confirmed that the Department of Justice is suing the municipality, alleging that denial of the permit amounts to a violation of federal law.
“Though we have filed our lawsuit,” he said, “we hope the good people of St. Anthony, including the elected officials who made this decision, will change their minds and allow Abu Huraira to conduct prayer services in this space.”
The group sought permission to use the basement of the city’s business center to hold its religious ceremonies, prompting the city council to determine that such a use would be in violation of the building’s zoning permit.
City Attorney Jay Lindgren affirmed that decision, noting that there was no discrimination in the council’s action.
“Religious uses of any type are allowed in the vast majority of the city,” he confirmed. “They are just not allowed in the roughly five percent of the city reserved for industrial uses.”
Nevertheless, Luger concluded that, since a previous council approved a permit for a union hall to hold meetings in the same zone, rejecting the Islamic center is evidence of unequal treatment under the law.
“An injustice has been done,” he alleged. “I will not stand by while any religious group is subject to unconstitutional treatment that violates federal civil rights laws.”
Among the locals who disagreed with the council’s decision and its aftermath was Rev. Paul La Fontaine. The Catholic church he leads in the community served as a sponsor of an interfaith event designed to offer a welcoming hand to the Islamic group.
“There was a desire to show a different face on things,” La Fontaine said. “It was an opportunity to get together and see some other people. Everyone is interested in having a good job and raising a family.”
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