LILBURN -- Lilburn's mayor and city council issued a strongly worded statement Wednesday, calling characterizations of religious bias "unfortunate" and saying the Department of Justice's complaint regarding the city's handling of the Dar-E-Abbas mosque should have been "moot."
"The City of Lilburn enjoys considerable ethnic and religious diversity. We have places of worship that span a broad spectrum of faiths," the two-page statement said. "Our Mayor, City Council, and city staff work evenhandedly with all facets of our citizenry."
"The recent characterizations of Lilburn as being other than a city of tolerance and acceptance is unfortunate," it continued. "This misrepresentation was fed by the United States Department of Justice deciding to interject itself into ongoing negotiations between the City and Dar-E-Abbas."
On Friday, the Justice Department issued its formal complaint against the city of Lilburn in regards to its handling of the twice-rejected rezoning application of the Muslim group currently housed near Hood Road and Lawrenceville Highway. The complaint lodged allegations that Lilburn had violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).
It claimed city officials had made "hostile remarks about Muslims" and essentially denied the Dar-E-Abbas applications based on the congregation's religious beliefs.
A simultaneously released settlement held that Lilburn would not impose different zoning requirements on Dar-E-Abbas or other religious groups and that city employees would attend RLUIPA training, among other stipulations.
The city's statement Wednesday implied that the Justice Department's filing -- which came 10 days after Lilburn approved the rezoning application itself -- was unnecessary. It said the two parties had been "negotiating in good faith."
"The City was compelled to enter into a settlement of the DOJ lawsuit, in order to avoid several years of expensive and time-consuming litigation with a federal agency having unlimited public resources," the statement said. "The DOJ complaint should have been moot at the point of the City and Dar e Abbas reaching agreement."