Last week I wrote this post about the federal Department of Justice investigating the City of Alpharetta over a zoning case which involved a local mosque. I understand that some people believe the mosque decision was a case of religious discrimination but I followed the case closely and there has never been one shred of evidence produced to support that claim. The Justice Department may find some evidence of discrimination and if so I expect the city would immediately reverse their decision. But why did the feds choose to investigate that particular case without any evidence of discrimination?
I bring this up again because the Roswell Neighbor contains this article by Joan Durbin about a zoning case that the City of Roswell decided against a Christian school. As far as I am concerned that case and the case involving the mosque are both zoning issues that just happen to involve religious organizations and when the Roswell case was originally decided against the school it also sued the city. In the case of the Christian school the article says:
The court stated it was “within the purview and discretion of mayor and council to determine the factors of the preservation of the residential neighborhoods.”
Funny though… the article doesn’t mention a federal investigation over that case. Surely the Justice Department wouldn’t single out zoning cases involving mosques for special scrutiny would they?
It just so happens that my son plays baseball on a field with no lights because the neighborhood stopped a Christian school from installing them… but the justice department never investigated that case. So how is the Justice Department deciding which zoning cases to investigate when there is no evidence of discrimination?
If they are going to investigate cases involving mosques or temples shouldn’t they be investigating ones which involve churches too? I am not seriously suggesting that every zoning case involving a religious institution should be investigated by the federal government but it does seem blatantly discriminatory to bully local governments about cases which involve an Islamic mosque while ignoring similar cases which involve Christian churches. If all religions are protected equally then every religious organization should get the same level of protection afforded to mosques, right?
Otherwise people might get the idea that some religions are more equal than others and that wouldn’t be right because the arbitrary application of justice is no justice at all.
I think these are two very different cases. With the Christian schools, we’re talking lights and PA systems at sports facilities. With the mosque it is an expansion of their facilities, something directly tied to their ability to practice their faith. I don’t know of any cases where local zonings have prohibited a Christian church from building worship facilities.
Keep in mind that the Mosque doesn’t have to prove religious discrimination in court. The city has to prove that limiting the mosque is the least restrictive burden to accomplish a government interest. I’m guessing that interest would be traffic relief on Rucker Road. I’d argue that widening Rucker would be a better solution that limiting a religious institution’s ability to use their land. I think the court will agree. Remember that federal law gives religious groups great leeway over local zoning… dare I say more leeway that even someone like a developer.
I fear that the perception may be that Alpharetta is discriminating against those of the Muslim faith. Perception is reality and I worry that it could cause us to lose potential companies wishing to relocate here.
Lee- I know this is something we disagree on and I value your opinion. If there is evidence of religious discrimination I will join you in condemning it but I see no proof of the charge and refuse to accuse the neighbors and the city of such vile motives.
In response to your comments I would just like to make these points:
1) The proposed Islamic center would include the addition of a “multi-purpose facility” which I have seen variously described as either a gym or a school. It is not just an expansion of the current facility and the new use could dramatically increase the impact on surrounding homes.
2) The principle is still the same. The court in the Fellowship Christian case said,”it was within the purview and discretion of mayor and council to determine the factors of the preservation of the residential neighborhoods.”
3) I agree the perception is important. That is why I am trying to point out that the perception is wrong. Unless someone can prove otherwise I believe this case is common, everyday NIMBYISM and I find it offensive to think that mosques should be treated differently than churches by the federal government.
4) As a conservative, southern, white male I have grown accustomed to being falsely accused of racism. I refuse to be cowed by fear of the charge.