The Muslim community of the city of Sterling Heights, Michigan has filed a lawsuit accusing the city of violating the Religious Land Use Act by forbidding them from building a mosque on land the community already owned within the city limits.
Officially, the Planning Commission claimed their block on construction was based on concern over “traffic,” but locals say that email exchanges among the commissioners, along with public protests across the street and at hearings, suggest that the move was primarily related to a general dislike for Muslims.
At one public hearing, a resident showed a photo of a woman wearing of niqab, declaring “I don’t want to be near people like this. This is not humanity. This is scary, and disgusting.” Another resident accused the Muslims of wanting to build the mosque to “store weapons” and conduct militant training.
The commissioners weren’t much better, with emails reportedly centering around trying to get the leaders of the construction effort investigated as terrorists, and a police officially openly talking about contacting the FBI to see if they are “on the radar.”
Despite the official “traffic in a residential area” explanation, the proposed site is on a five-line road between two commercial districts. Such explanations are not unusual, however.
Across the United States, Muslims attempting to build houses of worship on their own land have faced severe regulatory restrictions, with officials citing traffic concerns, or the noise from the loudspeakers used for adhan. Though it is in theory extremely illegal for an American city to refuse a religious minority the right to build such a site, excuses like traffic and noise provide a flimsy veneer of legitimacy which is often enough to avoid serious scrutiny, even if such excuses would be unthinkable in blocking a church or any other religious site that was not Muslim in nature.