- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

ST. ANTHONY VILLAGE, Minn. (AP) - The federal government and the city of St. Anthony Village have reached an agreement in principle that will allow an Islamic center to have a worship space in the Minneapolis suburb, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger announced Tuesday.

The settlement, reached last week after a nearly 12-hour negotiating session, resolves a federal lawsuit that accused the city of religious discrimination when it rejected Abu-Huraira Islamic Center’s permit for a worship space in 2012. The settlement must still be approved by the Department of Justice, a federal judge, and the City Council.

“Today marks a new beginning for the Somali community and the people of St. Anthony,” Luger said. “It is a proud day for all Minnesotans. An injustice from 2012 has been reversed and freedom of religion has prevailed.”

The City Council is expected to vote on the settlement at its Dec. 23 meeting. Another vote to create a “planned unit development” - which would allow for mixed use on one parcel of land - is expected no later than Feb. 10, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Bahram Samie.

Mayor Jerry Faust said he’s confident the City Council will agree to the terms.

As part of the settlement, Abu-Huraira will be allowed to set aside 12,940 square feet of the St. Anthony Business Center for prayer services, weddings, and other religious ceremonies. The religious space would be largely in the building’s basement, Samie said.

The city will also allow Abu-Huraira - which owns the building - to rent space to tenants and businesses that will provide community services, Samie said.

Sheikh Abdirahman Omar, the vice president of Abu-Huraira, said the building would be open to everyone of any religion, or for non-religious community meetings.

He also addressed the opposition voiced by some citizens.

“In our community, we are very afraid of radicalization and recruitment. Having community space like this - and work opportunities for our young people - helps us build resilient communities, and be safe,” he said. “We understand that you may have some fear of Somali people, and Muslims. But I want to tell you, we came here 20 years ago seeking freedom, and safety. The same reasons your forefathers came here. … We oppose those who think violence is the answer to any question.”

The City Council had voted 4-1 to reject the proposed Islamic center in 2012, saying a religious and cultural center wasn’t compatible with the site’s light industrial zoning.

The U.S. government sued the city in August, alleging that the city treated Abu-Huraira’s application for a conditional use permit on less-than-equal terms as other, non-religious permits to assemble. The lawsuit claimed that denying the permit imposed a substantial burden on Abu-Huraira’s religious assembly, and limited their ability to exercise their religion.

The city has denied the allegations.

Lori Saroya, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, welcomed the settlement.

She said in a statement that there have been five other cases involving opposition over Muslim land use in Minnesota in the past two years. Proposals in Blaine, Plymouth, Willmar, and Bloomington were eventually approved, and a proposal for a mosque in St. Cloud was withdrawn.


Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/amyforliti

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