Artist rendering of proposed expansion of the Dar-E-Abbas mosque in Lilburn.
ATLANTA The United States Department of Justice filed a complaint Friday against the city of Lilburn, alleging religious discrimination in its handling of rezoning applications by the Dar-E-Abbas mosque. A consent decree agreed to by both parties, also announced Friday, ended the pending federal lawsuit.
The settlement — which must still be approved by a federal district judge in Atlanta — resolved allegations that Lilburn violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) in twice denying the Shia Muslim group’s application for expansion near Hood Road and Lawrenceville Highway.
“Under federal law, cities may not use their zoning laws to discriminate against religious groups seeking to build places of worship,” said Thomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division. “We are pleased that we have reached an agreement with the city of Lilburn that requires equal treatment of all religious organizations.”
The DOJ began investigating Lilburn in March following the city’s first denial of Dar-E-Abbas proposal, interviewing members of the mosque and city officials. It’s findings allege that the rejections were “based on the religious bias of city officials and to appease members of the public opposed to the construction of a mosque based on religious bias.”
The mosque’s third attempt at a rezoning approval was passed in a 3-1 city council vote last week.
Under the consent decree to be filed Monday, Lilburn agreed to the following:
• Not to “impose different zoning or building requirements on Dar-E-Abbas of other religious groups.”
• To publicize its nondiscrimination policies.
• “Leaders, managers and certain other city employees” will attend RLUIPA training
• The city will “adopt new procedures that clarify its complaint process for zoning and permitting decisions regarding houses of worship.”
• It will “periodically” report to the Justice Department.
Wasi Zaidi, one of the congregation’s founding members, said Dar-E-Abbas never wanted to sue in the first place — but it was their “dream” to have a new building.
“I’m glad this thing’s over, I’m glad the government jumped into it and solved our issues,” Zaidi said Friday. “We’ve been living here for 13 years, and we are going to be good neighbors for the rest of our lives.”
The complaint issued by the Department of Justice states that “city officials directly involved in the Islamic Center’s attempts to obtain rezoning and/or a (special-use permit) have made hostile remarks about Muslims and members of the Islamic Center.”
It also lists five Christian churches — First Baptist Church of Lilburn, Northeast Community Church, Killian Baptist Church, Hawthorne Baptist Church and Providence Christian Academy — which had rezoning applications in the same time period, alleging that the city of Lilburn treated their requests “better than it treated the Islamic Center’s applications for rezoning.”
The complaint says the city has “never” turned down an application by a Christian church.