The Justice Department is taking a Pennsylvania town to court over a municipal board’s denial of a zoning application for a mosque, accusing officials of discriminating against a local Muslim organization on the basis of religion.
The Bensalem Township violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act when its zoning board in 2014 rejected a zoning request that would have allowed the Bensalem Masjid to build a mosque in the town, Justice Department attorneys wrote in a complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
“Our Constitution protects the rights of religious communities to build places of worship free from unlawful interference and unnecessary barriers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to challenge unjustified local zoning actions around the country when they encroach upon this important civil right.”
Members of the local Muslim community sought to build a mosque after years of renting a local fire hall for worship services. In 2012, the Bensalem Masjid organization met with elected officials to discuss options for building a 17,000-square-foot mosque on land adjacent to the township.