believed the evidence could suggest the city of Des Plaines discriminated
against a local Islamic congregation when it denied their request for a permit
to build a new community center in one of the city’s business districts, a
federal judge has decided to let the congregation and the city take their legal
fight to trial.
On Feb. 26, U.S.
District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly rejected requests for summary judgment from
the northwest suburban city and the group formerly known as the American
Islamic Center, as well as from the federal government. The AIC, a group of
Bosnian Sufi Muslims, is now known as the Society of American Bosnians and
Each party, with the
U.S. Department of Justice siding with the former AIC, had asked the judge to end
the lawsuit with a judgment in their favor.
however, said too many key questions in the court fight remain unresolved,
meaning the dispute could be ticketed for a trial date.
The legal fight
dates back to 2013, when the group then known as the AIC first brought the
action against the city of Des Plaines, alleging the city violated their religious
rights and discriminated against them in denying the congregation’s request to
open the mosque and community center inside a former office building.
Department joined the action in 2015, intervening on behalf of the Society of
The former AIC had requested zoning approval for their house of
worship after securing a contract to purchase a vacant office building from an
insurance brokerage, ostensibly ending a years-long search for a place to open
their own mosque and community center. The complaint indicated AIC members,
because of their Sufi approach to Islam, believed they were not welcome or that
they felt out of place at other mosques in the area where Sufism is not
Practitioners of Sufi Islam trace the origins
of their approach to the religion to its beginning. Adherents place a focus on
the spiritual aspects of Islam and a desire for a more pure worship, according
to information posted on ReligionFacts.com.
The Des Plaines City Council voted in 2013 to deny the group’s
land use request. At the time, city officials used a variety of rationales to
deny the AIC, raising, among other objections, concerns over parking, safety of
children visiting the mosque for worship and other activities, and concerns
over the impact of the new development on nearby businesses.
However, while discussing the city’s reasons, the Justice
Department said the city’s decision does not square with federal law, the
city’s own zoning codes or prior zoning decisions made by the city regarding
houses of worship.
In his decision
rejecting the city’s request for summary judgment, Judge Kennelly said the
Society had presented enough evidence to potentially persuade others that the
city’s zoning denial had discriminated against them under the federal Religious
Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and violated their constitutional
the judge pointed to the approach taken by the city to evaluate the proposed
mosque’s parking needs. Under other zoning approvals for other religious
centers or non-profit clubs, the city had applied ratios spelled out in the
zoning ordinance. However, in this case, the city – despite a report from a
consultant indicating the Society’s community center wouldn’t add much to the
area’s traffic – applied a different standard. The city said it believed the
differing, heightened standard was needed because a different Islamic center
elsewhere in town had generated much higher traffic than anticipated under the
city’s planning ratio, mainly because the mosque did not use fixed seating,
like other houses of worship may.
however, said the city presented no legal justification for applying this different
But the judge
said the city also had a case that it was justified to deny the zoning request,
citing a “compelling interest” in protecting nearby businesses, whose owners
expressed concerns about mixing visitors to the community center – and particularly
children - with their trucks and other industrial traffic.
and community members emphasized that they would like to see AIC’s center built
in Des Plaines but preferred to find an appropriate location,” the judge wrote.
“A reasonable factfinder could conclude, based on this evidence, that the City
denied the request for rezoning based on legitimate concerns and not based on
The judge said he
intended to use a hearing March 1 to set a trial date in the case.
The city of Des
Plaines is represented in the action by attorneys with the firms of Ancel,
Glink, Diamond, Bush, DiCianni & Krafthefer P.C., and of Holland &
Knight, each of Chicago.
The Society of
American Bosnians is represented by the firm of Anthony J. Peraica &
Associates, of Chicago.