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U.S. Dept of Justice files suit against township that denied zoning change to Islamic school

Oct 26, 2015

The U.S. Department of Justice is suing a suburban Michigan township for denying a zoning permit for an Islamic school. 

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Pittsfield Charter Township denied a zoning change to the Michigan Islamic Academy back in 2011.

Township officials said at the time they turned down the request because of concerns that the school would add traffic to an already heavily congested road. But school officials believed their religion played a role.

The justice department alleges that the township’s action on the zoning change request violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.  

“Religious freedom is a cornerstone of our society, and that freedom includes being able to create the institutions and physical spaces needed for worship, religious education and other aspects of religious exercise,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Dawud Walid is with the Council on American Islamic Relations. He’s glad to see the U.S. Attorney’s lawsuit.

“We want the Michigan Islamic Academy to be able to have a nice facility in Pittsfield Township,” says Walid. 

Walid says members of the local Muslim community have spent “in the six figures” fighting the zoning decision in court. The Michigan Islamic Academy also still owns the land that is the subject of the zoning dispute. 

“This has had an adverse effect for sure on the Muslim community in the Ann Arbo-Pittsfield Township area,” says Walid.

Pittsfield Township officials had not responded to a request for comment on the lawsuit at the time of publishing.          

At the time the zoning request was denied, Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal denied any religious discrimination in the decision, noting the planning commission had recently approved plans for a mosque.

We are an open, respectful and diverse community here in Pittsfield Township,” Grewal said in 2011.