Chicago Tribune: Islamic center suing DuPage board

A federal lawsuit was filed Thursday against the DuPage County Board and county zoning officials alleging discrimination in the rejection of a proposal for an Islamic educational center and place of worship near Naperville.

TheĀ  Council on American-Islamic Relations filed the suit in federal court in Chicago on behalf of the Irshad Learning Center, which had been proposed for a 2.91-acre site on 75th Street between Wehrli Road and Naper Boulevard in an unincorporated area near Naperville.

The County Board voted 10-7 in January to reject plans for the center, which would serve about 30 Shia Muslim families in the western suburbs who predominantly are of Middle Eastern origin or descent and who have been without a permanent educational and worship center for the past eight years.

The complaint seeks no specific amount of damages but demands compensation for losses from not being able to use the property at 25W030 75th St., said council attorney Kevin Vodak.

Named in the suit are County Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom, seven members of the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals and the 10 County Board members who voted against the plans. Schillerstrom didn’t vote on the matter, but was held accountable in the suit for the board’s actions.

In the suit, Irshad alleges “unequal treatment and discrimination.”

Irshad claims county officials failed to demonstrate that the proposal did not meet the standards for a conditional-use permit and also contends the vote violates the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 as well as federal constitutional rights to free exercise of religion, free speech and free assembly and similar state constitutional rights.

“The law requires that the county not impose a substantial burden on a religious entity, and that’s what was done here,” Vodak said. “The county did impose numerous conditions on them that have never been imposed on another religious institution. And when we looked at other conditional-use zoning requirements for other nonreligious uses, we saw that those did not have such a high burden either.”

Paul Darrah, a spokesman for the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office, which represents the County Board, said he had not yet seen the suit and could not comment on it.

Neighbors long had objected to plans for the center, citing concerns about parking and late-night services, which would begin at sunset and end particularly late during summer. In a document submitted to the county, neighbors said nearby houses are occupied by young children whose bedrooms are in the back of each house and who might be disturbed by noise and light.

However, supporters of the center have said religious bias was behind the objections. And in the weeks leading up to the County Board’s vote, opponents had alleged financial ties to a foundation suspected of aiding Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

The county’s Development Committee recommended approval of the project, but the Zoning Board unanimously voted against it.