The Justice Department is launching an inquiry into the decision of a Los Angeles suburb to deny a local mosque’s planned expansion.
Federal officials are looking into whether or not Lomita, California city council members violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act when they rejected the construction plans almost two years ago, according to the Daily Breeze, a local newspaper.
City Attorney Christ Hogin told the newspaper that the investigation started in July.
The city council denied that religion played a role in their decision, which they said was influenced by concerns over traffic and parking.
But the mosque’s supporters say that the city’s planning commission and municipal staff had recommended that the plans — to build a two- story building to replace eight aging buildings on the one acre lot — be approved, and that a study had found the expansion would have no effect on traffic patterns.
The mosque’s supporters contend that anti-Muslim sentiment informed the city council’s decision to reject the proposal.
And when Justice Department officials read a May 2010 Los Angeles Times blog post which reported that members of the Mosque felt discriminated against, they decided to launch their investigation, according to the Daily Breeze.
“I believe the city’s denial of the rezoning has constituted a substantial burden on the mosque community to practice their religion,” said Ameena Qazi, an attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations who is representing the mosque.
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act prevents state and local authorities “from imposing a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person.”
Opponents of the expansion, however, contend that the traffic study that justified the expansion was flawed, and that allowing the mosque to expand would shrink the city’s commercial zones and possibly cause sales tax revenue to decrease.
“It’s a little alarming the federal government would come in and second-guess a land-use decision like this,” Hogin said.