Hawzah News Agency(Troy, US) - The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed the federal lawsuit in Detroit on Thursday on behalf of Adam Community Center, a Southfield-based group that has religious classes in a Troy office.
The City of Troy said it acted appropriately and will strongly defend itself against the lawsuit.
For the past five years, some in the Muslim community have been trying to build a mosque in Troy at several locations, but have been thwarted in their plans, according to the lawsuit. There currently isn't a mosque in Troy, said CAIR.
"Adam has, since 2013, attempted to have several different properties approved as a place of worship within the City of Troy without success," the lawsuit alleges.
The most recent property where the Muslim group is trying to open a mosque is located on Rochester Road, north of Big Beaver Road, in a building that currently has a Japanese steakhouse restaurant and a warehouse.
The lawsuit alleges the City of Troy violated the Religious Land use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which seeks to protect the right of religious groups to open houses of worship. The city also violated the constitutional rights to free speech and assembly, said CAIR.
"Troy has unfortunately taken the route of other municipalities in blocking the establishment or expansion of religious facilities for American Muslims," said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of CAIR.
An attorney for the City of Troy, Lori Bluhm, told the Free Press in a statement: "The City will aggressively defend the lawsuit. The City articulated several reasons for its denial of ADAM’s multiple and significant variance requests for a retrofit of an existing building on Rochester Road that abuts residential properties."
Bluhm said "ADAM could not have located their proposed community center without obtaining a number of variances, including but not limited to parking and set-back variances from residentially zoned properties. Some of these requested variances were significant. Through the variance process, ADAM was required to demonstrate that they could not develop the property in accordance with Troy’s zoning ordinances because of hardships that related to the land itself."
A familiar fight for Muslims
The lawsuit is the latest case in Michigan where Muslims say they've been denied the right to build a mosque.
In Sterling Heights, a lawsuit was filed after a group was denied permission to build a mosque. The case was settled in Feb. 2017 after the Department of Justice intervened. There was a similar dispute in Pittsfield Township, which also was settled after the Justice Department intervened to allow the opening of an Islamic school.
Troy is 31 percent immigrants, one of the highest percentages of immigrants among cities in Michigan. Many of them have roots in Asia, and are of diverse religious backgrounds.
Some civil rights advocates have expressed concern over whether Muslims would be treated fairly in the administration of President Donald Trump, who established the Muslim travel ban, but the Justice Department has, under Trump, said it will protect the rights of Muslims to build mosques. In February 2017, it released a statement saying it will defend the right of Muslims in Sterling Heights to build a mosque.
Adam Community Center currently has another location in Troy where religious and nonreligious classes are taught, said the lawsuit. That location houses the Tarbiyah Institute, an Islamic seminary, which teaches Islamic education.
A long dispute
The dispute started about five years ago.
In 2013, Adam Community Center "was in the process of having a building approved as a community center with a small prayer space inside of the structure, until a resident of the City of Troy complained that they believed the space was going to be utilized as a mosque and the city halted the approval," said the lawsuit.
Later, the lawsuit said, Adam Community Center then "attempted to purchase an existing church within the city, and when some residents of the City of Troy found out about the purchase, they brought in a group of Christian investors to pay a price higher than what Plaintiff could afford and purchased the building 'out from under' " Adam Community Center.
The lawsuit alleges that city officials told them Troy has no more room to build a house of worship, but has built churches in recent years.
"They were told that the best thing to do for the Adam Community was to look to neighboring cities such as Rochester to acquire a place of worship because there were not any places in Troy which would be available," says the lawsuit.
Rochester Hills has a couple of mosques, including the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit, one of the region's largest mosques. Nearby Sterling Heights has three mosques.
Amy Doukoure, staff attorney for the Michigan chapter of CAIR, said in a statement: "Freedom of religion is a benchmark of American civil rights and is a beacon of freedom that shines across the globe. When public officials are apparently guided by Islamophobia in their decision-making, we have an obligation to fight back to preserve our religious freedoms."
According to the lawsuit, "members of the Troy ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals) bragged during recent ZBA hearings for variances how their church had just built one of the largest churches ever in the City of Troy" while they were denying Muslims permission to build a mosque.
Doukoure told the Free Press that "this is not an uncommon problem that Muslims face" when trying to build mosques. She said city officials will sometimes cite zoning issues in objecting to mosques in order to mask anti-Muslim prejudice.