CAIRO - The US Department of Justice has opened an investigation into rejection of Muslim requests to build mosques, amid concerns that prejudice rather than zoning issues might be the cause of the repeated mosque denials.
"Of the 11 investigations opened since 2000, two resulted in the filing of DOJ lawsuits that were resolved by consent decrees, three resulted in the local government voluntarily permitting the mosque, one led to a settlement of a privately filed lawsuit, four are currently pending, and in one case we determined that further action by the department was not warranted," a DOJ official told The Hour on Saturday, June 9, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Along with the 11 investigations, other four cases are open to review by the department.
According to the DOJ official, these investigations followed complaints from Muslims to the Civil Rights Division or a US Attorney's Office.
Some investigations were also brought to the department's attention through media coverage or referrals by attorneys, civil rights organizations or similar sources.
Requests by Muslim residents to build mosques have repeatedly been denied on different grounds ranging from local opposition to zoning problems.
But Muslims see the repeated denials of their worship places as a reflection of the growing animosity against their minority since the 9/11 attacks.
In the last five years, there has been "anti-mosque activity" in more than half of the US states, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The US has enacted the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000 that meant to prevent zoning laws from discriminating against religious institutions.
Under RLUIPA, no government shall impose or implement a land use regulation that discriminates against any assembly or institution on the basis of religion or religious denomination.
In its first 10 years of existence, RLUIPA has "had a dramatic impact in its first ten years on protecting the religious freedom of and preventing religious discrimination against individuals and institutions seeking to exercise their religions through construction, expansion, and use of property," according to the DOJ anniversary report.
Since enactment of the law, the DOJâhas opened 51 RLUIPA investigations.
Of the 51 investigations, 31 involved Christian, six involved Jewish, seven involved Muslim, three involved Buddhist, one involved Unitarian, one involved the Hindu faith and two involved multiple faiths, according to the DOJ anniversary report.
The new investigations did not include a recent decision by Norwalk Zoning Commission to reject plans to by Al-Madany Islamic Center of Norwalk to build a mosque in the area.
The commission voted 4-3 last week to deny a special permit needed to construct the 27,000-square-foot structure in a residential zone.
Mayor Richard A. Moccia said the decision was well-thought out and had nothing to do with religion.
"It had to do with density, size and traffic," Moccia said.
But Farhan Memon, Al-Madany Islamic Center spokesman, believes that the decision by the Norwalk Zoning Commission was arbitrary.
"The project meets all of the provisions of the zoning code. While we recognize that neutral laws of general applicability are valid, RLUIPA protects religious institutions against those laws when they are applied subjectively, as they often are in the area of zoning," Memon said.
"In this case Norwalk's zoning regulations clearly state size, height and setback provisions for building of this type in a AAA residential area that we comply with."
Norwal mosque was not the first to be rejected for no serious reasons recently.
All across the US, mosques have been facing fierce opposition recently.
At least 18 mosque projects from Mississippi to Wisconsin have found foes who battle to stop them from seeing light citing different pretexts, including traffic concerns and fear of terrorism.
Even more, some mosques were vandalized including a 2011 Wichita mosque arson case for which a $5,000 reward is being offered.
In multicultural New York, a proposed mosque near Ground Zero site has snowballed into a national public and political debate, with opponents arguing that the Muslim building would be an insult to the memory of the 9/11 victims.Advocates, however, say that the mosque would send a message of tolerance in 9/11-post America.