Federal Court Enters Consent Decree Ordering City of Horn Lake to Approve Plans for Local Mosque in Federal Anti-Muslim Bias Litigation

Affiliate: ACLU of Mississippi
January 4, 2022 8:15 am
Abraham House of God co-founders Riyadh Elkhayyat and Maher Abuirshaid

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HORN LAKE, Miss. — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Mississippi, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP have secured a consent decree that favorably resolves a federal lawsuit, Abraham House of God v. City of Horn Lake, filed against Horn Lake officials who unlawfully denied zoning approval for a proposed mosque due to anti-Muslim bias. Under the terms of the consent decree, the City of Horn Lake and the other defendants have agreed to approve plans to permit construction of the first mosque ever in DeSoto County, Mississippi.

The ACLU, ACLU-MS, and Simpson Thacher filed the federal lawsuit on Nov. 3, 2021, on behalf of the mosque and its founders, noting that the City’s actions violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which provides heightened protections for houses of worship in zoning proceedings, and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The complaint asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi to issue an injunction allowing construction of the mosque.

Under the consent decree, entered last night by the court, Horn Lake officials must approve the mosque’s site plan, which they previously rejected, and act quickly in the future to address any other permitting and building-related matters. The order also provides that the defendants will pay plaintiffs $25,000 for expenses incurred in appealing the denial of the mosque-site application and pay for plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and costs associated with the federal lawsuit. The federal district court will have continuing jurisdiction over the action for a period of five years to facilitate the enforcement of the consent decree.

“We are heartened and relieved that we are able to move ahead with our plans for a mosque in Horn Lake, which will provide a critical local house of worship for my family and other Muslims in the community to gather and practice our faith freely and without discrimination,” said plaintiff Riyadh Elkhayyat, co-founder of the Abraham House of God mosque.

Plaintiff Maher Abuirshaid, who co-founded the Abraham House of God, continued, saying, “We look forward to having the opportunity to join the wonderful fabric of the Horn Lake religious community and are thankful to the court for facilitating this resolution that addresses everything we had hoped to achieve.”

“A wrong has been rectified with this order. People of every faith should have a safe place to worship, including the Muslim community of DeSoto County,” said ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director Josh Tom.

Heather Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said, “The consent decree entered by the court today is an important victory for religious freedom. It affirms the fundamental principle that the government may not base its decisions on bigotry against a particular faith.”

“We are very pleased that the parties were able to come to a successful resolution, which upholds the constitutional right of the Muslims of DeSoto County and Northern Mississippi to practice their religion and join together in a local place of worship,” said Jonathan Youngwood, Global Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.

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