According to the DOJ, Virginia county violated federal law by not allowing a mosque to be constructed.
The department filed a lawsuit on Monday saying county officials “imposed a substantial burden” on a Muslim congregation’s free exercise of religion and “discriminated against the group based on religion,” NBC Washington reported.
While the DOJ is calling the permit denial discrimination, the county reportedly denied the “pump and haul” sewage permit saying that the site does not meet requirements.
The county had previously considered 26 applications since 1992. They had never denied a pump and haul permit for commercial or religious use according to the DOJ reports.
The Culpeper County Board of Supervisors denied the ICC’s request for a sewage system permit in a 4-3 vote in April of this year.
When the permit was denied, “a roomful of Culpeper County residents cheered,” reported the Culpeper Star-Exponent.
Islamic Center of Culpeper’s members (ICC) purchased the land to with plans to build the county’s first mosque.
The head of the Civil Rights Division, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, said in a statement, “The Constitution and federal law specifically protect the freedom of religious communities to establish houses of worship. The Justice Department will continue to work tirelessly to protect every person’s right to assemble for religious exercise.”
The DOJ’s press release is provided below.
Department of JusticeOffice of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEMonday, December 12, 2016
Justice Department Files Suit Against Culpeper County, Virginia, for Blocking Mosque Construction
he Justice Department filed a lawsuit today against Culpeper County, Virginia, alleging that the county violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when it denied a sewage permit application to the Islamic Center of Culpeper (ICC), effectively preventing the ICC from building a small mosque on land that it had purchased in the county. The land is located in a zoning district where religious land use is permitted by right.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, alleges that the county imposed a substantial burden on the Muslim congregation’s exercise of religion and discriminated against the ICC based on religion when it refused to grant a “pump and haul” permit to allow the ICC to transport sewage from the ICC’s property to a point of disposal. The county had told the ICC that such a permit was necessary because its soil, like much soil in the area, could not support a septic system. The complaint alleges that since 1992, the county has considered 26 applications and never denied a pump and haul permit to a commercial or religious use prior to the ICC.
“The Constitution and federal law specifically protect the freedom of religious communities to establish houses of worship,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to work tirelessly to protect every person’s right to assemble for religious exercise.”
“Religious liberty is a fundamental right in our country and this case seeks to uphold that right,” United States Attorney John P. Fishwick Jr. of the Western District of Virginia said today. “We will continue to work with the experienced lawyers with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to protect the residents of the Western District of Virginia from unlawful discrimination.”
RLUIPA, enacted in 2000, contains multiple provisions prohibiting religious discrimination and protecting against unjustified burdens on religion exercise. Persons who believe that they been subjected to religious discrimination in land use or zoning may contact the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-896-7743.
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