A federal lawsuit alleges DuPage County discriminated against an Islamic group by denying its request to transform a house near West Chicago into a mosque.
The lawsuit, filed by Islamic Center of Western Suburbs, is asking the court to declare the group can use the home at 28W774 Army Trail Road as a religious institution.
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Mark Daniel, the lawyer representing Islamic Center of Western Suburbs, said legal action was needed because the group "exhausted" all remedies by the time the county board voted 15-3 to reject the project on May 8.
"We think the county violated federal law and the decision needs to be reversed in court," Daniel said.
DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin declined to comment about the specifics of the lawsuit because it's pending litigation.
"All I will say is that we will defend the county," he said, "and do whatever is appropriate and necessary in our defense of DuPage County."
The lawsuit says there "was no rational basis" for the group's application to be denied. But it wasn't feasible for the group to obtain consideration by a majority of the board because of members voting "regardless of the merits" or voting based upon misinformation, according to the suit.
One of the lawsuit's nine counts says the county violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by applying "different standards and procedures in considering ICWS's application for conditional use as an Islamic religious institution than it applied in considering applications for similar non-Islamic uses."
Daniel said DuPage also violated the Fourteenth Amendment clause of equal protection because it "specifically harassed and punished ICWS through its handling of this (zoning) process."
For example, he said, there is "nothing to support" a county board member's public statement that the mosque operated out of the house for 2½ years against county regulations.
Before the final decision, the zoning board of appeals voted 6-1 against the mosque, but the county board's development committee voted 3-2 to endorse it.
If the proposal had won approval, the group would have had to comply with various restrictions, including one to limit the mosque to no more than 30 worshippers at one time, and not more than 150 people in one day.
County board members who opposed the plan questioned whether the home's existing septic system could handle the number of daily worshippers. They also questioned whether the county would be able to enforce a daily limit on the number of worshippers.
Daniel said perceived problems with the septic field were false. Even though a county board member had "explicit information" from a septic professional that the septic field was sufficient to support the planned use, the lawsuit says the board member "continued to circulate misinformation about ICWS and the project."
"The county applied itself in a fashion that led to this confusion over septic," Daniel said. "It was obscene how they viewed the septic situation."
Islamic Center of Western Suburbs is requesting a jury trial to determine the outcome of the case.
In addition to a declaration about use of the property, the group asked that the court award compensatory damages against the county and "any other and further damages and relief" deemed necessary.
Daniel said it's not yet clear how much in damages the group is seeking. "We will be assessing all the financial losses to ICWS," he said. "They are out at least six figures."