Daily Herald: Islamic group sues DuPage County over school rejection

A federal lawsuit was filed against DuPage County Thursday claiming an Islamic group’s Constitutional rights were violated when a proposal to build an educational center near Naperville was rejected in January.

The Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed the suit on behalf of administrators of the Irshad Learning Center. The group’s attorney, Kevin Vodak, said the county violated state and federal laws when the center’s proposal was denied.

“This group was faced with a high burden based in comparison to applications from non-Muslim institutions,” Vodak said.

The suit names county board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom, the seven members of the county zoning board of appeals and 10 county board members who voted against the center. One county board member who voted against the proposal called the allegations of discrimination “outrageous.”

“They were trying to build something too big,” said board member J.R. McBride. “They were trying to basically fit a mansion on a shed-type plot and my vote had totally to do with the development laws that needed to be followed.”

Vodak contends that the center’s proposal met all zoning requirements, even though Irshad officials agreed to several stipulations regarding traffic, hours of operation and parking in an effort to pass the project.

County board member Tony Michelassi, who heads the board’s development committee and voted in favor of the proposal, said he anticipated the lawsuit after the proposal was rejected.

“My concern all along was the legal process could allow them to move in to this site without any of the conditions set during the county’s vetting process,” he said.

The lawsuit outlines several occasions when Irshad officials were asked about the types of religious activities that would occur at the proposed center. Zoning board member John Hakim asked if “any animal sacrifices” were typical of the activities that would take place there, according to the suit. Vodak said that was just one example of some of the “bizarre” questions lobbed at center officials over the course of months of hearings.

The group is seeking a jury trial to determine the outcome of the case. No future hearing dates have been set.