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Justice Department sues Bensalem Township over mosque denial

Bensalem Township is Bucks County's largest municipality, and it contains temples, synagogues and churches; however, there aren't any mosques. In 2014 the township's zoning board refused to grant a variance to allow construction of a mosque, and it has now been accused of illegal discrimination in a lawsuit filed by the United States Department of Justice.

The Muslim congregation - known as a masjid - that wants to build the mosque, first began looking for a location for its mosque in 2008. When Bensalem Township denied the masjid's request for a variance to build the mosque in an area not zoned for religious institutions, the masjid filed suit in United States District Court accusing the township of discriminating against it.

The Justice Department's suit alleges that the township engaged in illegal religious discrimination when it denied the zoning permit. The federal complaint asks for an order directing Bensalem to approve the mosque, to provide training for the township's employees regarding religious land-use laws and award unspecified damages to the masjid.

The township has denied discriminating against the Bensalem Masjid. Instead, the township claims that the Masjid failed to present a complete application when it asked for a zoning permit. As proof of this assertion, the township pointed out that it recently allowed the Faith Unity Islamic Center to build a mosque in the township. On the other hand, mosque supports claim that the Bensalem Masjid was required to go through six hearings and to answer questions about whether the mosque would bring more Muslims to Bensalem.

Cases such as this one are becoming more common as Muslims experience resistance to their efforts to build mosques. Anyone with questions about the legal principles that affect the rights of Muslims to build their own houses of worship should take steps to better understand his or her matter. A knowledgeable attorney can provide advice about the constitutional principles, the terms of the zoning code and legal strategies for achieving a desirable outcome.

Source: Philly.com, "Justice Department: Bensalem discriminates against Muslims," Justine McDaniel, July 22, 2016

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