FEBRUARY 22, 2012 AT 4:52 PM
Muslim school sues Pittsfield Twp. over denial of project
- BY ORALANDAR BRAND-WILLIAMS
- THE DETROIT NEWS
Detroit — A Muslim school filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Pittsfield Township officials for turning down its request to build a new school in the area.
Last year, Pittsfield Township denied the Michigan Islamic Academy’s zoning request to build near the intersection of Golfside and Ellsworth roads.
Officials cited traffic concerns and complaints by local residents that construction of a school in the area would affect their property values.
But local Muslim civil rights officials say the township’s actions of denying the zoning request was nothing more than an excuse to block the school from locating in the area and follows a trend of “Islamaphobia” that many Muslim communities have experienced across the country and in Michigan.
The township is “Using zoning laws to block Islamic schools and centers for no bona fide reason except to block our community from practicing our constitutional rights,” said Dawud Walid, the executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations – Michigan during a news conference to announce the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
Pittsfield Township officials have not commented on the issue.
An official for the Michigan Islamic Academy, currently located in Ann Arbor, said township officials initially were receptive to their plans to build on the property.
Tarek Nahlawi, a board member of the school, said the school conducted and passed two feasibility studies on traffic impact at the location.
Nahlawi said additional lighting and improvements to the school’s grounds were made in an effort to get zoning approval.
“Every time they raised the bar, we actually surpassed them,” said Nahlawi at Wednesday’s news conference.
According to the 32-page complaint accompanying the lawsuit, a Pittsfield Township planning commissioner said during a June 16, 2011 meeting that the construction of the school “would have an effect on property values.”
The school is suing the township on grounds that the township’s actions violate the federal law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act aimed partly at granting greater protection of religious freedom.
According to the lawsuit, township officials have imposed restrictive and “unlawful” impositions on the academy in an effort to block the school from being built.
Masri said the township had already “made up its mind up” about the school and that township officials have “no compelling government interest” as to why the school should not be built.
The Michigan Islamic Academy is a pre-school through 12th grade school with 360 students. It is on Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor.
Walid said if the township’s actions go unchallenged, it would be setting a “dangerous precedent.”
“We would be seeing neo-Jim Crow-ism based on religion.”
The proposed school site is 27 acres. The total costs of the new school are estimated at $450,000, Nahlawi said.
“MIA once had a dream but the township made it a nightmare.”