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Department of Justice Steps in to Halt Religious Discrimination Through Zoning

As the U.S. Department of Justice takes action to protect the religious freedoms of Muslims in the United States, zoning decisions have proven a particularly common source of anxiety among Muslim communities.
August 10, 2016, 7am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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The Islamic Center in Washington, D.C.
Orhan Cam

Katie Shepherd reports on the controversy over a proposed mosque project in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. According to Shepherd, a Muslim congregation in the Philadelphia suburb spent ten months "[pleading] with township officials to allow the construction of a mosque, paying for expensive traffic studies, repeatedly explaining Islamic practices, revising and re-revising design plans, and then receiving the final word: No."

The U.S. Department of Justice, however, has charged "that the Bensalem Township zoning hearing board had violated federal religious land-use laws by denying the congregation’s application after it had granted zoning exemptions for other religious construction projects."

More specifically, the township's zoning board had previously granted variances to an Indian Orthodox church, two Hindu temples, and several faith-based private schools, among other religious institutions, according to Shepherd.

The Bensalem case is just one example of a concerted effort by the Department of Justice to protect the rights of Muslims in the United States at a time of heated political rhetoric and global conflict. "The Justice Department has taken up land-use cases like the one in Bensalem, religious discrimination in the workplace and at school, and hate-crime cases, and it has deployed community leaders to educate people on Islam," reports Shepherd.

Accusations of religious discrimination, like the example from Bensalem, are increasing, according to Shepherd. And in some cases, other churches have stood in solidarity with Muslim mosques, recognizing the possibility for one variety of religious discrimination to lead to another.

Full Story:
Published on Sunday, August 7, 2016 in The New York Times
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