Tuesday, December 13, 2016

DOJ sues Virginia county for blocking mosque construction

One day, Muslims hope a mosque will take the place of this building in Culpeper County, Virginia.

FINALLY, Muslim/Americans in Culpepper County took a major step towards having a mosque of their own but it took the federal government's assistance.

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Monday (Dec. 12) against Culpeper County, Virginia, alleging that the county violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when it denied a sewage permit application to the Islamic Center of Culpeper (ICC), effectively preventing the ICC from building a small mosque on land that it had purchased in the county. 

“The Constitution and federal law specifically protect the freedom of religious communities to establish houses of worship,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.

The parcel's zoning permits religious land use.

The lawsuit comes as Muslim and immigrant rights advocates voice concerns over religious discrimination in the United States after inflammatory statements by President-elect Donald Trump about immigration and Islam. Trump has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.

Representatives for Culpeper County did not respond to requests for comment.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, alleges that the county imposed a substantial burden on the Muslim congregation’s exercise of religion and discriminated against the ICC based on religion when it refused to grant a “pump and haul” permit to allow the ICC to transport sewage from the ICC’s property to a disposal site. The county had told the ICC that such a permit was necessary because its soil, like much soil in the area, could not support a septic system. 

The complaint alleges that since 1992, the county has considered 26 applications and never denied a pump and haul permit to a commercial or religious use prior to the ICC. 

There is no mosque in the county, which is about 70 miles southwest of Washington. About 12 to 20 Muslims have been praying at a temporary site, and wished to build a permanent mosque on the site.

Last month, the DOJ used RLUIPA to file suit against Bernards Township, New Jersey for their attempts to block the construction of a mosque by repeatedly adding new requirements. 

“Religious liberty is a fundamental right in our country and this case seeks to uphold that right,” said U.S. Attorney John P. Fishwick Jr. of the Western District of Virginia.