CHICAGO — The Justice Department announced today that it had filed a lawsuit against the city of Des Plaines, alleging that the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when it refused to allow the American Islamic Center (AIC) to operate a place of worship in a vacant office building it had contracted to purchase.
The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, alleges that the city of Des Plaines imposed a substantial burden on the AIC’s exercise of religion and otherwise discriminated against AIC based on religion when it refused to grant its request for rezoning that would allow it to operate an Islamic place of worship in a vacant office building it had contracted to purchase. The complaint alleges that the city imposed parking standards and other zoning criteria that were not supported under its zoning ordinance and that it had never imposed on non-Muslim places of worship.
“The ability to establish a place for collective worship is a fundamental protection of the First Amendment and our civil rights laws,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will remain vigilant in its mission to ensure that all religious groups enjoy the right to practice their faiths freely.”
“The freedom to practice the religion of one’s choosing is a precious right in our country,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois. “We will continue to enforce the laws that protect this important right.”
RLUIPA, enacted in 2000, contains multiple provisions prohibiting religious discrimination and protecting against unjustified burdens on religion exercise. Persons who believe that they been subjected to religious discrimination in land use or zoning may contact the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-896-7743. More information about RLUIPA, including a report on the first ten years of its enforcement, may be found at http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/rluipaexplain.php.