**** PRESS RELEASE ****
– For Immediate Release & Distribution –
Islamic Center sues City of Des Plaines for zoning denial
Press conference to be held at CAIR-Chicago
(CHICAGO, 9/16/2013) — The Chicago Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago) joined the law offices of Anthony J. Peraica & Associates, Ltd. in filing a complaint in federal court today against the City of Des Plaines, Illinois. The complaint presents claims that the City violated the American Islamic Center’s rights to religious freedom when it denied a zoning request to allow the Center to operate a religious institution on land they attempted to purchase in February 2013. CAIR-Chicago will be hosting a press conference at its downtown office to announce the filing of the lawsuit.
WHAT: News Conference on American Islamic Center’s lawsuit against Des Plaines
WHEN: Monday, September 16, 11:00 am
WHERE: Azima Center at CAIR-Chicago, 17 N. State Street, Suite 1500, Chicago, IL 60602
WHO: CAIR-Chicago Litigation Director Kevin Vodak, Attorney Anthony Peraica, and AIC representatives
American Islamic Center, a Bosnian community organization, has been seeking a permanent location for its educational and religious activities since March of 2011. After investigating numerous properties in areas convenient for its 160 members, the Center secured property, former commercial office space that had been vacant for more than two years, located at 1645 Birchwood Avenue.
The Center presented Des Plaines with detailed proposals regarding the planned use of the property, including extensive traffic studies which found that Birchwood Avenue carries a low volume of traffic and has adequate capacity to accommodate the Center’s activities. The Center intended to use the property for prayer services, Saturday religious education classes, and related community meetings. Based on the evidence presented by the Center and its experts, on June 10, 2013, the Des Plaines Plan Commission unanimously recommended that the Center’s map amendment be approved.
On July 15, 2013, however, the City Council reviewed the zoning map amendment request and, in a 5-3 vote, denied the amendment. The Center’s lawsuit alleges that Des Plaines violated the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) by imposing a substantial burden on the Center’s religious exercise, as well as discriminating against the Center as a religious institution and based on its Muslim affiliation.
“By denying the zoning relief requested by the American Islamic Center, Des Plaines contravened the standards set forth in its own Zoning Ordinance, the City’s Comprehensive Plan, and expert findings analyzing American Islamic Center’s plans,” said lead counsel Anthony Peraica. “We believe that the City Council’s decision was specious and violated federal law. RLUIPA was designed to protect religious institutions facing such baseless denials of zoning changes.”
Earlier this year, CAIR-Chicago’s Kevin Vodak represented the Irshad Learning Center in a similar case, where the judge ultimately ruled in favor of Irshad, deeming DuPage County’s refusal to approve Irshad’s request for a zoning permit a “substantial burden” on its free exercise of religion.
“We are seeing a continuing trend of Muslim institutions being denied permits for baseless reasons, and we remain committed to challenging such practices, which violate firmly grounded rights to religious freedom,” says Vodak.
American Islamic Center has filed suit in order to secure a permanent location for its activities in Des Plaines and to recover damages based on its losses in being denied the zoning relief.