Naperville Sun: Irshad appeal delayed again

DuPage County commissioners and office-holders named in a religious-bias suit were dealt another delay this week in their effort to have the case dismissed.

Representatives for the directors of the Irshad Learning Center launched the federal action April 8. The complaint alleges the organization’s First and 14th Amendment rights were violated when county officials refused to grant a special use permit to open an Islamic worship site and school in a former home on three acres along 75th Street just east of the Naperville city line.

County attorney Tom Downing, acting on behalf of the 18 Zoning Board of Appeals and County Board members named in the appeal, filed a motion to dismiss the case in late May. U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmyer on Monday said she needed more time to consider that request.

“She wanted to make sure she considered everything,” said Kevin Vodak, the attorney representing Irshad through the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Vodak said the judge hopes to issue her ruling within the next couple of weeks. If she denies the county request, preparations for the case will continue. Irshad has requested a jury trial for the appeal.

Among the assertions in the initial complaint is that the ZBA recommended withholding the permit on the basis of “speculative use” of the site that had been demonstrated as lacking merit. The filing maintains that reports from nearby residents of Irshad members taking part in late-night worship at other locations nearby were untrue and should not have been taken into consideration. Adjacent residents had argued that the facility would conduct activities far into the night, hindering their quality of life.

The filing also refers to a query posed by ZBA member John Hakim about the prospect of “animal sacrifices” being part of worship activities, which some Muslims found offensive.

In addition, the suit cites an effort by the Naperville Tea Patriots to have the plan rejected. The complaint quotes Naperville resident Virginia Petru, who wrote an e-mail to the County Board alleging links between Irshad and Iranian terrorists and implored the county to call in the FBI and Homeland Security before considering clearance of the permit.

All seven members of the zoning panel are named in the suit, as well as the 10 County Board members who voted to turn down the permit, and outgoing Chairman Bob Schillerstrom. The three District 5 board members who represent Naperville and the area where Irshad’s property is located — Jim Healy, Tony Michelassi and John Zediker — all voted to approve the permit and are not among those named.

A spokesman at State’s Attorney Joseph Birkett’s office, where Dowling works, said Thursday that the county is optimistic an answer will come soon to the dismissal motion.

“We’re just kind of in a holdingpattern right now,” Paul Darrah said.