Group alleges discrimination in Islamic cemetery rejection

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — An Islamic civil rights group wants the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether authorities in a Minneapolis suburb township acted with anti-Muslim bias when they rejected a proposed Islamic cemetery in 2014.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Minnesota chapter, or CAIR-MN, alleges that Castle Rock Township discriminated based on religion. The group wants authorities to investigate whether denying the cemetery violated federal law.

“It is truly a sad day when Minnesota Muslims are denied their final resting place simply because of their faith,” the group’s executive director, Jaylani Hussein, said in a statement last week.

Ben Petok, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said that immediately after the request came in, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger personally invited the group to present its case to his office for review.

According to CAIR-MN, the Castle Rock Township board rejected an application submitted by the original property owner for a proposed Islamic Cemetery located in the township. The property was later sold to Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association, which also submitted its own separate application for an Islamic cemetery. But the board refused to review it, saying an application had already been denied.

At the time, a cemetery was a permitted use in the zoning area in question, and the Castle Rock Planning Commission had recommended that the board approve the conditional use permit with certain conditions, according to CAIR-MN. After the denial of the conditional use permit, the Castle Rock Township Board changed the zoning ordinance so that cemeteries were no longer a permitted use in the zoning area where the land is located.

When reached by The Associated Press last week, township board chairwoman Sandy Weber said she had no comment.

According to minutes of the board’s meeting on Aug. 11, 2014, vice chair Russ Zellmer said the parcel was 70 acres, which is large for a cemetery and would result in a lot of tax base that would be lost to the township. Zellmer also expressed concern that it would be discriminatory because the facility would not be open to the public for burials.
Officials in Castle Rock Township, about 30 miles southeast of Minneapolis, also declined to comment to the St. Paul Pioneer Press last week, citing the ongoing legal action.
The Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association has filed a lawsuit in Dakota County. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

CAIR-MN wants authorities to determine whether the denial violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations.

 

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