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updated: 9/16/2013 6:26 PM

Muslim group sues Des Plaines for denying religious center

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Daily Herald staff report

A Bosnian Muslim group is suing the city of Des Plaines and five of its aldermen, alleging the city council's rejection last month of a proposed religion center in an area zoned for manufacturing violated rights to religious freedom.

The Chicago Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Tony Peraica, a Chicago attorney representing the American Islamic Center, filed the complaint in federal court Monday.

It alleges the city violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by denying the center a zoning request that would allow it to operate on land it purchased in February at 1645 Birchwood Ave. The center intended to use the property for prayer services, religious education classes and community meetings.

"(Des Plaines) treated plaintiff less favorably than similarly situated non-Muslim zoning applicants and created pretextual reasons for denying plaintiff's application, thereby discriminating against plaintiff on the basis of religion," the suit states.

Des Plaines Mayor Matt Bogusz declined to comment until after the scheduled city council meeting Monday night.

The lawsuit asks a court to rule the city's actions invalid, declare that the plaintiffs have a right to develop the property as their proposal outlines and award the center compensatory damages and legal fees.

Besides the city, the lawsuit also lists as defendants aldermen James Brookman, Michael Charewicz, Patricia Haugeberg, Dick Sayad and Mark Walsten. They were the five alderman voting to reject the proposal. Aldermen John Robinson, Denise Rodd and Joanna Sojka, who voted in favor of the zoning change, are not named in the lawsuit.

The center's 1.8-acre site, which has an existing zoning of general manufacturing, has been vacant for more than two years. It was previously occupied by an insurance company.

In June, the city's plan commission unanimously recommended approval of the plan, but a month later, the city's community development committee denied it.

According to Monday's news release, the center filed suit in an effort to secure a permanent location in Des Plaines and to recover damages.

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