St. Anthony, MN
At a planning commission meeting on Tuesday, March 20, 2012, supporters of the proposed Abu-Huraira Islamic Center (AHIC) voiced their frustrations over the city’s decision to delay their plans by removing discussion of their application for a Conditional Use Permit from the meeting agenda. The proposed Islamic Center would be about 15-000 square feet and would occupy a former Medtronic building (French, 2012). At this meeting, supporters said they had worked with city officials throughout every phase of the project, but were frustrated when the city delayed the project to consider zoning issues at the site of the project. The zoning issues city officials were concerned over involved the question of whether a religious facility could operate in an area zoned for light-industrial use. A week prior, on March 13th, the St. Anthony City Council unanimously approved Resolution 12-037 that placed “a moratorium on Conditional Use Permits for assemblies, meeting lodges, or convention halls in the Light Industrial Zoning District to study whether to impose additional amendments to the Code” (City Council Minutes, 2012, March 13). This moratorium allowed city officials to suspend conditional use zoning permits. Chair Heinis of the Planning Commission clarified that the AHIC’s application would be taken up at a future meeting within the city’s 120-day statutory time frame for action on applications, after the City’s study had been completed.
In a special meeting on June 4th, 2012, the St. Anthony City Planning Commission approved the project. Following this, a vote was set for June 12th for the city council to approve the project. At this June 12th meeting, residents made “disparaging remarks” about the project during the public comments section prior to the vote (Mohr, 2012). One speaker, John Murlowski, is quoted as saying: “Islam is evil. There’s no other religion in the world that endorses violence” before he was cut off by Mayor Jerry Faust (French, 2012). The Islamic Center was rejected on a 4-1 to vote. The next day, on June 13th, the Council for American Islamic Relations-Minnesota asked the DOJ to conduct a probe into the city council’s vote as a potential violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). On October 29th, 2012 the United States Department of Justice announced that it had begun an official civil rights investigation over the rejection of the Islamic Center. Supporters of the mosque applauded the decision.
After almost two years of investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Minneapolis, the U.S. Department of Justice US announced on August 27, 2014 that it had filed an RLUIPA lawsuit against the city. The lawsuit alleged that the city had violated RLUIPA’s Equal Terms provision by allowing general assemblies but not religious ones and, as a result, that the city had imposed a substantial burden on the Abu-Huraira Islamic Center by denying their application. At a news conference in Minneapolis, the attorney general for the District of Minnesota, Andrew Luger, reiterated the DOJ’s reasoning that the city had violated the Islamic Center’s civil rights saying,“Under the same zoning language, the city had allowed other assemblies in the same neighborhood, including a union hall and a church” (Rathbun, 2014). This was the first time the DOJ had brought an RLUIPA case against a Minnesota city. It followed several other cases in the state where counties and municipalities had denied Muslim communities permits for houses of worship or schools (e.g., in Blaine, Plymouth, Wilmar, and Bloomington).
On December 9th, 2014, the city and the government reached a settlement, allowing a Planned Use Development at the property that the Islamic Center purchased. The Planned Use Development agreement allows Abu-Huraira to occupy the St. Anthony Business Center for religious services. The settlement also stipulates that the city will not discriminate against Abu-Huraira or any other religious groups based on zoning laws and that city officials must receive training about RLUIPA.