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Detroit — The U.S. government is suing the city of Troy, claiming the Oakland County community violated federal law for religious land use when it denied zoning approval for a mosque last year, officials said.

“Zoning laws that treat mosques, churches, synagogues, and other religious assemblies less favorably than nonreligious assemblies illegally restrict religious exercise in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the U.S. Department's Civil Rights Division said Thursday in a statement.

“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that local governments do not discriminate against faith communities in violation of federal law.”

City attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm could not be reached for comment on Thursday, but the city issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

"The City of Troy has not yet been served with the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the City. We presume this new lawsuit raises many of the same allegations that were included in the lawsuit that ADAM COMMUNITY CENTER filed against the City several months ago challenging a decision of Troy’s Zoning Board of Appeals denying Adam’s request for seven variances. The City vehemently denies that it engaged in any impropriety or discrimination and it is aggressively defending the lawsuit. The Zoning Board of Appeals denied the variances because it was not persuaded that Adam met its burden to demonstrate entitlement to the variances in accordance with the standards set forth in the City’s zoning ordinance. These same standards are applicable to all applicants that seek a variance."

The Justice Department filed the suit Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

It alleges the city violated a provision of the religious land use act — which requires religious assemblies to be treated at least as well as nonreligious assemblies — when it denied approval for the mosque. It also alleges the city’s actions violated the law because they imposed a substantial burden on the Muslim community group seeking to build the mosque, the Adam Community Center.

“Troy is obligated to treat religious assemblies and institutions on equal terms with nonreligious assemblies and institutions,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Matthew Schneider said in a statement. “This complaint reflects our commitment to protect the religious liberties of all people in this district.”

The lawsuit comes about five months after a federal judge denied the city's request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Adam Community Center over Troy's rejection of plans to build the mosque on Rochester Road about three-quarters of a mile south of Wattles Road.

More: Judge: Troy mosque lawsuit can move forward

The Adam Community Center claims city officials purposely and unconstitutionally tried to block its plan to build the mosque by unfairly and illegally applying zoning ordinances. The city later asked a federal judge to dismiss the suit. 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Michigan chapter, or CAIR-MI, which is representing the Adam Community Center in the lawsuit, praised the Justice Department's action Thursday.

"We welcome efforts by the Department of Justice to ensure that people of all faiths may have a place of worship in the city in which they reside and to ensure that cities do not discriminate against religion through their zoning ordinances," Amy Doukoure, CAIR-MI's staff attorney, said in a statement.

"The city of Troy is one of the largest communities in Michigan in both land size and population. It is appalling to think that they could have seventy-three places of worship for other faiths, but that in this day and age the city is not home to a single mosque."

cramirez@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez

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