Justice Dept. Sues Illinois City For Blocking An Islamic Center

The city has 42 places of worship, 40 of which are Christian.

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department on Wednesday sued the City of Des Plaines, Illinois, alleging that officials imposed parking and zoning regulations on an Islamic center that were never imposed on non-Muslim places of worship.

The city of 58,000 is 77 percent white and has about 42 places of worship, 40 of which are Christian, according to the lawsuit. The American Islamic Center did not have a permanent location and tried to purchase a facility, but officials in Des Plaines "imposed a substantial burden" on the religious organization by refusing to rezone an abandoned office building.

The lawsuit alleges that city officials treated the rezoning application differently, with a senior planner in the city telling a traffic engineer to take into consideration parking problems that had happened at the only other Muslim place of worship in the city. Officials also cited the loss of tax revenue when denying the rezoning application, but had approved other zoning applications from other religious and tax-exempt organizations. The lawsuit was filed under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. 

“The ability to establish a place for collective worship is a fundamental protection of the First Amendment and our civil rights laws,” Vanita Gupta, who heads the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “The Justice Department will remain vigilant in its mission to ensure that all religious groups enjoy the right to practice their faiths freely.”