MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a formal civil rights investigation into the city of St. Anthony’s decision to reject a planned mosque.
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations praised the DOJ’s decision Monday.
St. Anthony City Council members voted 4-1 in June to turn down plans for Abu Huraira Islamic Center, prompting CAIR-MN to request an investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office conducted an initial review to see if the case had merit.
U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jeanne Cooney said a formal investigation was launched last week. She couldn’t discuss specifics, but said Monday: “With all of our civil rights investigations, our ultimate goal is to resolve the dispute to the satisfaction of the parties involved. It’s still our hope that we can resolve this dispute.”
If a resolution can’t be reached, Cooney said, litigation is an option.
The center was supposed to be housed in the basement of the former Medtronic headquarters. During the city council meeting in June, many residents spoke on both sides of the issue. Some who spoke against the mosque made disparaging comments about the Muslim faith.
“We applaud the commitment by the U.S. Department of Justice to uphold federal laws and take a strong stance against recent anti-mosque bigotry in Minnesota and nationwide,” CAIR-MN executive director Lori Saroya said in a statement Monday.
She said three other mosque projects have faced opposition in Minnesota in the past year. Those projects — in Plymouth, Willmar and Bloomington — eventually were approved, she said.
St. Anthony City Council member Hal Gray said the issue is strictly a land use issue and “doesn’t have anything to do with their religion whatsoever.”
Gray said the mosque was planned for an area that is dedicated to light industrial use. Only 5 percent of the city is dedicated to light industrial use, and the city wants to keep that area for jobs or economic development, he said.
He said some of the residents’ comments against the mosque were unfortunate and had no place at the public meeting, but he said those comments didn’t influence the council’s decision.
“We don’t agree with those opinions,” Gray said.
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