Irshad Learning Center Update: Judge Denies DuPage County's Attempt to Dismiss Lawsuit

CAIR-Chicago is pleased to announce the decision by District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer this week to deny DuPage County’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the county on behalf of the Irshad Learning Center, a Naperville mosque.

The Irshad Learning Center (ILC) applied for a zoning permit to use a former school in unincorporated DuPage County as a mosque and Islamic school. The DuPage County Board denied them the permit in January, 2010, without explanation. CAIR-Chicago filed a complaint against members of the Board on behalf of the ILC last April.

The ILC, which owns the vacant building, felt that an Islamophobic smear campaign against the congregation influenced the Board’s decision. Anti-Muslim protests were taking place outside the County Board meeting, and false accusations against the ILC were made by representatives of the anti-Muslim group Act! For America during the meeting where the decision was made. ILC members, who are predominantly of Iranian decent, believe unfounded rumors regarding the ILC’s funding created a basis for denying them a permit.

All zoning requirements were met by the ILC and no reasons were given by the County Board for the rejection. The suit was filed under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, the First Amendment to the Constitution – affording the free exercise of religion, speech and assembly- and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. State law bases include the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“We are happy to receive Judge Pallmeyer’s well-reasoned decision allowing the ILC to proceed in its case against the County. We will continue to pursue the ILC’s right to use the facility they own to accommodate the needs of the community,” said CAIR-Chicago Staff Attorney, Kevin Vodak. “The ILC met all of the requirements pursuant to the County’s zoning ordinance. Judge Pallmeyer’s decision acknowledges that the ILC presents legitimate arguments that its rights were violated.”

The Irshad Learning Center (ILC) is temporarily using a church to hold congregational prayers and community gatherings.

“Irshad Learning Center is a shelter for faith, for people who want to once in a while get together and pray together, worship, and perhaps help their kids get some acquaintance with their faith and cultural background,” said Mojtaba Noursalehi, a member of the Board of the ILC.

Mahmood Ghassemi, chairman of the Irshad Board, said the group did everything it was asked to do to meet county requirements and satisfy neighbors but, “our good will was not reciprocated by neighbors or by the officials.”

Board members clearly weren’t swayed by the concessions that the ILC made, including barring exterior sound amplification, prohibiting events and activities on the property after 10:30 p.m., allowing no more than one live-in caretaker and restricting the number of parking spaces.

“Based on the allegations and complaints, we believe the County Board and other zoning officials imposed a higher standard for the ILC as a Muslim religious institution,” said CAIR-Chicago Staff Attorney Kevin Vodak. “The ILC is pursuing full recourse under federal and state law. We will do all we can to ensure the ILC is able to use the property as intended and recovers its losses.”

The Irshad Learning Center is one example of many Muslim religious institutions across the country that met resistance in 2010. In fact, it’s one of three just in unincorporated DuPage County. Even more disturbingly, DuPage officials recently proposed amendments to the Zoning Ordinance that would ban any new religious institutions in residential areas, citing an “oversaturation of religious institutions” in the area. This proposal was fortunately dropped.

CAIR-Chicago and other interfaith leaders held a press conference to condemn this action, as an encroachment on first amendment rights. The amendments appeared to target Islamic religious organizations, as Muslims are the predominant religious group currently seeking to establish assemblies in the county. Places of worship for other faith groups have been built in the county without resistance for decades, and now that Muslims are building, all of a sudden the county feels there are too many places of worship.

“This is reminiscent of the rhetoric used to keep Jewish families out of certain neighborhoods in the fifties,” said Jane Ramsey, Executive Director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA). “My family had to deal with those zoning ordinances back then and this is steeped in the same kind of rhetoric.”

CAIR-Chicago is currently working on the case of the Irshad Learning Center and is collaborating with interfaith groups to ensure religious institutions in DuPage County do not face adversity.