DOJ addresses land use discrimination

Posted at 3:56 PM, May 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-02 18:12:25-04

Metro Detroit is one of the most religiously diverse in the US; That also means a wealth of religious discrimination.

In a stepped up effort of outreach, the Justice Department and US Attorney Barbara McQuade met today with minority groups and religious leaders on a particular form of discrimination -- land use.
"Minority faiths continue to be discriminated against in land use decisions," said Eric Treene, with the DOJ.

McQuade explains, "This relates to the right under federal law for religious freedom in using land that you own." She continues, "If you deny a religious group the ability to build a mosque on their land -- you can do it if you have a compelling governmental reason--but you cant do it just because you don't want Muslims in your neighborhood."

And that seems to continue to happen. In fact, the DOJ says nearly half of their open investigations involve the suppression of Islamic schools and mosques.

Its something one of the largest Arab American organizations in the country is seeing too.

"We are hearing a lot of bullying, non-profits fearful for the safety of their organizations, backlash to mosques being built," says Nadia El-Zein Tonova, with ACCESS.

She says roundtable discussion is a good first step at protections for those like her. "We were invited by the US Attorneys office."

But there needs to be follow through, not just photo ops.

McQuade says open litigation proves that. She also says many times the offending parties that unlawfully deny a land use permit to a minority group often don't understand the law. And community outreach like this can often solve the problem before DOJ takes legal action.