Today, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Sterling Heights, Michigan, and its Mayor, Michael C. Taylor, alleging violations of federal and state law. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of seven residents of the City who oppose the construction of a Mosque in their largely Chaldean Christian neighborhood.
Last month, the City decided not to defend against the specious claims made by the American Islamic Community Center (AICC) in its lawsuit filed against the City in August 2016, but instead to enter into a Consent Judgment that granted AICC permission to build the Mosque even though doing so violated the City’s zoning ordinance. The decision to enter into the Consent Judgment was made during a City Council meeting held on February 21, 2017. During this meeting, the City Mayor engaged in conduct that AFLC alleges in its lawsuit violated the U.S. Constitution and the Michigan Open Meetings Act.
This past Friday, March 10, the district court judge presiding over AICC’s federal lawsuit signed the Consent Judgment and closed the case. By doing so, the judge effectively authorized the City to violate its zoning ordinance by allowing the construction of the Mosque. AFLC’s lawsuit alleges that this was improper and is asking in its lawsuit that the court declare the Consent Judgment invalid and unenforceable.
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise commented,
“The City’s decision to enter into the Consent Judgment was a fait accompli. The City Council meeting was a compete sham. Indeed, this meeting was not an example of democracy in action; it was an example of a naked abuse of government power.”
In the lawsuit, AFLC alleges that the Mayor violated the U.S. Constitution by (1) adopting an ad hoc rule that limited speakers wanting to address the Consent Judgment matter to just 2 minutes, thereby severely limiting a private citizen’s right to express his or her views at this public hearing, even though the City allowed other speakers addressing less controversial matters that evening to speak at great length, (2) prohibiting certain views based on their content and viewpoint; that is, no one was permitted to mention religion or even hint at it when discussing the Consent Judgment matter, and certainly no one was permitted to make any statement that might be deemed critical of Islam, (3) directing the City police to seize individuals and escort them out of the meeting if the Mayor opposed what they were saying about the Consent Judgment matter, and (4) ordering the citizens out of the public meeting when it came time to actually vote on the Consent Judgment. This last action also violates the Michigan Open Meetings Act, according to the filing.
The gravamen of AFLC’s lawsuit, however, is its challenge to the Consent Judgment. AFLC is asking the court to declare the agreement invalid and unenforceable. According to the filing, a federal consent decree or settlement agreement, such as the Consent Judgment entered into between AICC and the City and signed by the judge, cannot be a means for government officials to evade state law. Municipalities, such as the City, may not waive or consent to a violation of their zoning laws, which are enacted for the benefit of the public, by entering into such a decree or agreement as the City has done here.
“It is evident that AICC wanted to ‘plant the flag’ in this Chaldean Christian community by building this huge Mosque. This is a community of Christians, many of whom fled Iraq because they or family members were subjected to violence and abuse from ISIS. Indeed, AICC’s zoning application was a joke. It knew the City would reject it. Consequently, its lawsuit, which has now resulted in the Consent Judgment, was a complete set up. Unfortunately, Sterling Heights isn’t the only place where these Mosque-building tactics are being employed. We will do what we can to stop it.”
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi commented:
“It is evident that the City caved in to the unreasonable demands made by AICC when the Obama Department of Justice got involved in that case by filing its own lawsuit. The legally obnoxious conduct by Mayor Taylor and the remnants of the Obama DOJ is why the new Attorney General Jeff Sessions needs to clean house and far more deeply than just the political appointees. It is precisely the corrupt bureaucratic underbrush that hides and otherwise disguises the swamp that is big government in D.C. AFLC will do what it can through the courts, but Attorney General Sessions ought to take a look at our complaint and understand what his constitutionally perverse underlings are attempting to accomplish through this illegal Consent Judgment.”
Karen Lugo, an attorney and an expert on land use litigation, is assisting AFLC in this matter. Ms. Lugo commented:
“The residents of Sterling Heights have been left in jeopardy by this rush to settle. Their major concerns from the very beginning have been traffic and safety. So many obvious questions and misrepresentations were never addressed, like the nearly 8,000 square feet in the Mosque basement that was never considered for parking and traffic calculations. The deal never considered the many events and activities that Mosque officials have not disclosed to the City that will undoubtedly be offered once the site is in operation. For public safety reasons alone, this Consent Judgment must be invalidated by the court.”
CASE UPDATE (March 17, 2017): Today, we filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the court to temporarily halt the construction of the Mosque while this case proceeds.