A Muslim congregation has filed a federal discrimination suit against the city of Lilburn, Ga., in suburban Atlanta for denying a rezoning request for a new mosque.
The Lilburn City Council on Nov. 18 turned down a request by the Dar-e Abbas Shia Islamic Center to build a mosque, gymnasium and cemetery on 7.9 acres on Lawrenceville Highway. Under the property’s C1 zoning status, churches, temples and synagogues are restricted to sites of five acres or less.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S District Court in Atlanta, claims the five-acre restriction constitutes religious discrimination, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, because it does not apply to other institutional buildings such as community centers, lodges and meeting halls, the suit alleges.
“The zoning ordinance, as applied to plaintiff, treats religious organizations and institutions on less than equal terms with non-religious assembiies and institutions,” the suit states.
The congregation has worshiped for the last 11 years in a mosque on an adjoining 1.3 acre site. The current mosque is too small for the 250-member congregation and has no room for a cemetery, the suit says.
It is integral to the Shia Islam faith for the dead to be buried near their place of worship and facing northeast, requiring burial plots oriented from northwest to southeast, according to the suit. It is difficult to accommodate that configuration in many existing cemeteries, the suit adds.
The congregation "must buy large tracts of existing cemeteries, to reorient the burial plots in accordance with the practice of their faith, which imposes a considerable burden on the families of the deceased," the suit says.
The five-acre zoning restriction was not in place when the congregation built the original mosque 11 years ago, according to the lawsuit.
Hundreds of Lilburn residents turned out for the Nov. 18 vote on the rezoning request. Opponents said the issue was about zoning, traffic and noise, not religion, according to media reports.
Lilburn Mayor Diana Preston, who is named a defendant in the lawsuit, declined to comment. She owns four acres the congregation is trying to buy for the new mosque. The mayor was not present at the Nov. 18 council meeting when the rezoning request was denied. Doug Dillard, attorney for the Dar-e Abbas congregation, was not immediately available for comment.