Sterling Heights sued over mosque case settlement
Sterling Heights — Residents against a controversial planned mosque are suing the city over its recent settlement of legal action in the case.
City officials are again facing scrutiny for its handling of American Islamic Community Center’s bid to build a new mosque near 15 Mile and Mound, which they rejected in 2015 but now favor after settling two lawsuits filed last year.
The residents claim their objections were ignored, the worship site still doesn’t meet planning requirements and officials appear to favor Muslims.
The lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court centers around the Feb. 21 decision to settle the AICC and the Department of Justice lawsuits filed last year. Both alleged the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects individuals, houses of worship and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and land-marking law.
Despite vociferous outcry from scores of residents at a contentious meeting, council members OK’d the settlement. They say the move followed negotiations and proposal tweaks, avoided expensive legal fees and offered the city more input in the final mosque design.
A federal consent decree entered recently paves the way for construction on the 20,500-square-foot facility house of worship to start as soon as this summer.
But the moves are disputed by seven residents — including Chaldean Christians and a planning commissioner — who turned to the American Freedom Law Center in their legal fight against Mayor Michael Taylor and the city.
“Defendants’ purpose for entering into the consent judgment and for the mayor’s actions at the City Council meeting was to favor those who want to build the AICC Mosque over those who oppose it,” the lawsuit stated. “A reasonable observer would conclude that this favors the adherents of Islam over those who are not adherents of Islam.”
Attorneys argued in the court filing that the planning commission denying the special approval land use application hinged on zoning ordinance criteria, not religion.
They also claim Taylor violated residents’ rights by restricting their time during public comments and clearing the room for a vote when deeming the audience “out of order.”
“The actions of the city, through its mayor, directly censored speech or had a chilling effect on speech...” the document read.
Taylor declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday.
After the settlement vote, the mayor said the proposed mosque would add “to the wide variety of places of worship across the city, including numerous churches, two other previously existing Mosques, a Sikh Temple, a Buddhist Temple and a BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.”
The day after the settlement, representatives for the American Islamic Community — which has many members who live in Sterling Heights — said they “used the Constitution as a shield” in fighting to build the mosque.
Then-U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade also said the DOJ lawsuit focused on what lawyers called “unnecessary burdens” placed on the mosque proposal, which was denied in part because of concerns about the height of the building’s spires.
The settlements resolved issues involving parking, traffic congestion and the size of the mosque’s dome and spires.
But many residents who spoke at the February council meeting said the site doesn’t mesh with the neighborhood.