The American Islamic Community Center has filed a lawsuit against the City of Sterling Heights after a proposal to build a mosque was denied in the fall of 2015.
Attorneys for the center claim city officials violated federal law by denying the permit and the decision to do so was politically and religiously motivated.
Azzam Elder with the Elder Brinkman Law firm says efforts were made to resolve issues through talks, but no action was taken.
“We had no choice. City officials had a year to sit with the community and they basically have been giving them lip service.” said Elder.
7 Action News has also learned, a federal investigation is underway.
According to United States Attorney Barbara McQuade, “The Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s office have been conducting an independent investigation, and that investigation is ongoing.”
The American Islamic Community Center is seeking equitable relief to build the mosque and damages.
Sterling Heights City Officials have issued the following statement regarding the federal lawsuit:
In response to the lawsuit filed by the American Islamic Cultural Center (AICC), the application for the special approval land use to construct a mosque was considered by the City's Planning Commission based on established land use criteria and not emotional feelings tied to religious beliefs either for or against the applicant. Sterling Heights has a solid reputation for inclusiveness and tolerance reflected in a wide variety of places of worship across the City, including two existing Mosques, a Sikh Temple, a Buddhist Temple, and a BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.
Sterling Heights is a community that has and continues to welcome diversity through many programs and events. For many years, the city has been known in Metro Detroit as a premier community—in large part because of its diverse population representing a wide variety of cultures, ethnicities and race. One of Sterling Heights' most well-attended annual events is the ever-popular Cultural Exchange, wherein thousands of residents gather every year to celebrate and share their heritage with one another through food, dancing, art displays and other activities.
Sterling Heights will continue to foster faith-based inclusiveness and understanding with local partners including our city's school districts, religious organizations and other community groups. Sterling Heights was the first City in Macomb County to join Welcoming Michigan, an organization representing new refugees and immigrants who have chosen Sterling Heights as their new home. We continue to work closely with Welcoming Michigan to develop new programs tailored to inclusiveness as well as promoting education and understanding of the various cultures within our City.
As stated in the City's 2030 Vision Statement; Sterling Heights is a vibrant, inclusive community for residents and businesses that is safe, active, progressive and distinctive. Inclusiveness will continue to be a guiding principle in all that we do. As such, the City has been and continues to be interested in collaborating with the American Islamic Community Center.
Knowing this matter involves litigation, the City will not be commenting any further publicly.