Mosques and Community Centers

Map - Nationwide Anti-Mosque Activity»

The controversy over the planned Park 51 community center in New York City is only one example of opposition to mosques and Islamic centers in the United States. Existing and proposed mosque sites across the country have been targeted for vandalism and other criminal acts, and there have been efforts to block or deny necessary zoning permits for the construction and expansion of other facilities.

While mosque opponents frequently claim their objections are based on practical considerations such as traffic, parking, and noise levels, those asserted concerns are often pretexts masking anti-Muslim sentiment. Government officials in some areas of the country have yielded to this religious bigotry, treating mosques and Islamic centers differently than other proposed houses of worship and/or denying zoning permits without the compelling interest that is required by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (a federal civil rights law that affords heightened legal protection to the use of property for religious purposes). Even where local governments strongly support religious freedom, private citizens nevertheless often seek to intimidate Muslims into forgoing the exercise of this freedom.

The NYCLU and ACLU supported the Park 51 project to build and Islamic Cultural Center in lower Manhattan.
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The ACLU and ACLU of Kentucky (2010) appealed to the Mayfield, Kentucky zoning board to grant a permit to a local Muslim resident to operate a prayer room in the town’s central business district. The board unanimously granted the permit after ACLU involvement.

The Maine Civil Liberties Union (2009) filed suit against the City of Portland on behalf of the Portland Masjid and Islamic Center, a group of Muslims seeking to use a former television repair shop they had purchased for prayer services and religious study. In response, Portland amended its land-use ordinance, and the Portland Planning Board granted approval to the project. The new mosque will primarily serve as a religious and cultural center for Muslim families who came to this country from Afghanistan fleeing religious persecution following invasion of their country by the Soviet Union.

The ACLU of Washington (2005) represented The Islamic Education Center of Seattle, a small Muslim nonprofit organization that holds prayer services, education programs, and cultural activities, after the city of Mountlake Terrace denied the Center a conditional land use permit. The City denied the Center permission to operate even though it granted an allowance to a Christian church next door to the Center. With the aid of the ACLU, the Center eventually received its permit from the City.

The ACLU of Southern California (2006) filed a FOIA request seeking answers about government spying in mosques.

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