Georgia Mosque Wins Approval
BY MIKE ESTERL
LILBURN, Ga.–A controversial mosque project that has divided this Atlanta suburb for two years got the green light Tuesday as elected officials dropped their opposition amid a federal probe.
Lilburn’s city council voted 3-1 in favor of allowing the 20,000-square-foot Muslim worship center to be built by Dar-e-Abbas, a local Shiite group.
The vote coincided with a Department of Justice investigation into whether Lilburn violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by rejecting zoning applications for the mosque in 2009 and again last year.
The 11-year-old federal law, also known as RLUIPA, prohibits local authorities from imposing “a substantial burden” on religious groups or treating them “on less than equal terms” than other groups in land-use decisions.
Lilburn’s council halted the mosque in two previous votes after residents complained the project would bring too much traffic and noise.
Several residents spoke out against the mosque again Tuesday at a packed hearing. Allan Owen urged council members not to “surrender your authority” to the Justice Department in land-use decisions.
But another resident, Robin Stinson, spoke in favor of the mosque and accused local opponents of being “bigoted.”
Officials in Lilburn, population 11,596, also have been defending themselves in a suit Dar-e-Abbas filed under RLUIPA in federal court in 2009.
Dar-e-Abbas argued Baptists and Hindus were allowed to build much-larger worship centers on the same busy thoroughfare.
“It was a long fight, but justice has been done,” said Wasi Zaidi, a Dar-e-Abbas founder, after Tuesday’s vote.
The Justice Department has launched RLUIPA probes into 16 contested mosque sites in the U.S. since May 2010.
Write to Mike Esterl at firstname.lastname@example.org
Original post: Georgia Mosque Wins Approval