Georgia: DOJ sides with mosque in expansion fight

In court filings this week, United States Department of Justice attorneys conclude the city of Alpharetta may have discriminated against a mosque by denying its plans to expand.

The Islamic Center of North Fulton wants to tear down its existing facility to build a much larger one on its Rucker Road property.

“They’re in a very inadequate facility,” attorney Doug Dillard told Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik. “They don’t have adequate facilities for them to bathe properly before they worship, to pray properly, for them to listen to the imam.”

In 2010, the city voted down the center’s plans, in part, because of a supposed agreement the center made with neighbors never to expand beyond its current facility. In January, U.S. District Judge Owen Forrester ruled he found no such agreement ever existed but still sided with the city, ruling the mosque didn’t show the denial put a substantial burden on its members.

On Tuesday, DOJ attorneys filed a “friend of the court” brief, calling into question Forrester’s decision. “The district court applied an erroneous legal standard in granting the city’s summary judgment motion,” the brief said. “The court should have asked instead whether the denial of the permit … actually and substantially inhibits the center’s religious exercise, rather than merely inconveniencing it.”

Attorneys also wrote that the evidence suggests the city discriminated against the mosque. “The fact that the city’s own community development staff found that the proposed mosque will have no greater effect on the surrounding area than many churches located nearby … is sufficient to raise a reasonable inference of discrimination,” the brief said.

WSB Atlanta, 14 June 2012