Township sued for denying school's zoning request

By Jeff Karoub
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) - The federal government said Monday it sued a southeastern Michigan township for denying a zoning change that would allow construction of an Islamic school that has outgrown its nearby home.

The Justice Department, which filed the suit against Pittsfield Township near Ann Arbor in U.S. District Court in Detroit, said in a news release the township violated a law that prohibits imposing land use regulations that put a substantial burden on religious exercise.

The township in 2011 rejected Michigan Islamic Academy's request to build on vacant land in a planned residential area. The school, which has 190 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, said its Ann Arbor location is insufficient to meet its religious and secular needs.

After the township's decision, the school sued and the federal government opened an investigation.

"We filed this lawsuit to protect the right of all Americans to practice their religion and receive the religious instruction and education of their choice," said Barbara McQuade, U.S. attorney for Detroit.

Attorney Tom Meagher, who is representing the township in the lawsuit, told The Associated Press the zoning decision was "fair and lawful." He said it's "the wrong location" for any school and religion has nothing to do with it.

"The township is not imposing a burden of any kind," he said. "We're lawfully enforcing our ordinances."

At the time of the township's decision, opponents raised worries over traffic and other issues, and the trustees cited concerns the school would add traffic to an already heavily congested road. The school submitted changes to accommodate the township's concerns and argued a developer had earlier discussed building a public elementary school on the site.

People also encouraged the school's leaders to find another location in the township, about 35 miles west of Detroit. The school said it considered several properties but none were suitable.

Published: Wed, Oct 28, 2015