U.S. attorneys and others commended the groundbreaking Wednesday for a construction of a mosque in Sterling Heights that was subject of a contentious, multi-year legal battle.
The American Islamic Community Center broke ground for a new mosque to be built on 15 Mile Road between Mound and Ryan roads.
The Muslim mosque was initially proposed five years ago but drew fierce opposition from some area residents, resulting in two lawsuits that led to the settlement of one lawsuit by the AICC and the federal government against the city claiming constitutional violations, and the failure of a second lawsuit by a handful of residents against the city and mosque.
U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, chief of the agency’s Detroit office, said the Constitution protects religious communities from bias treatment.
“We are happy to join AICC on this very important day,” Schneider said in a news release. “While it is a shame that it had to face delays and unnecessary obstacles, AICC’s beautiful new building will stand as a lasting reminder of the importance to fight for the religious rights of all Americans. We are so pleased that the U.S. Attorney’s Office could assist AICC in its journey.”
Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor wasn’t able to attend the groundbreaking ceremony along with other officials due to a scheduling conflict but said he is pleased the facility will finally be built.
“I’m excited for them,” Taylor said. “This has been a long time coming.”
The project demonstrates the city’s diversity, he said.
“A study a couple of years ago said we were one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the state,” he said. “We’re one of the most religiously diverse.”
Taylor said he didn’t wish to dredge up the controversy over the mosque beginning in 2015 and concluding last year with final legal rulings.
“The past is in the past,” he said. “There’s nothing more to say about that.”
The appeals court panel in 2019 backed a U.S. District judge’s 2018 ruling in favor of the city’s 2017 settlement with the AICC following its lawsuit, which was joined by the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming religious discrimination and a substantial burden on the AICC’s ability to exercise religion.
The AICC sought a location more convenient for mosque members, and a larger building than its current location elsewhere in Sterling Heights is needed for religious, educational and social needs.
The case’s origins go back to 2015 when the city Planning Commission denied the organization’s request for a special land-use permit for the mosque, sparking the AICC’s lawsuit. The settlement included the city’s approval of the mosque.
Attorney Dan Dalton, who represented the AICC, said he was surprised by the opposition because much of it came from the Christian Iraqi community.
“It was interesting because the main opposition was another immigrant community that has been there for over 100 years,” he said. “We should be better than this as a culture and a community.”
AICC members have not held a grudge, he said.
“They have been very gracious and forgiving, and are happy they will have a place to worship,” he said.
The plan at one time was for a 20,500-square-foot structure on a 4.3-acre parcel. The structure would have a more than 60-foot dome. But the size may have changed as the design went through changes, officials said last year.