By Ed Diokno
Finally, Muslim Americans in Culpepper County in Virginia took a major step towards having a mosque of their own, but it took the federal government’s assistance.
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Monday (Dec. 12) against Culpeper County, alleging that the county violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when it denied a sewage permit application to the Islamic Center of Culpeper (ICC), effectively preventing the ICC from building a small mosque on land that it had purchased in the county.
“The Constitution and federal law specifically protect the freedom of religious communities to establish houses of worship,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.
The parcel’s zoning permits religious land use.
The lawsuit comes as Muslim and immigrant rights advocates voice concerns over religious discrimination in the United States after inflammatory statements by President-elect Donald Trump about immigration and Islam. Trump has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.
Representatives for Culpeper County did not respond to requests for comment.
The complaint alleges that since 1992, the county has considered 26 applications and never denied a pump and haul permit to a commercial or religious use prior to the ICC.
There is no mosque in the county, which is about 70 miles southwest of Washington. About 12 to 20 Muslims have been praying at a temporary site, and wished to build a permanent mosque on the site.