- Associated Press - Thursday, July 28, 2016

LEXINGTON, Neb. (AP) - The Lexington City Council has voted to allow Muslims to continue to use a former laundromat as a mosque.

The council voted Tuesday to grant a conditional use permit for the Islamic Center of Lexington. An agreement leading up to the vote has been in the works since the city sued the center in February. The council originally voted Dec. 22 to deny the permit. The mosque already was operating in the building.

The center has said attendance usually tops out at 80 people, and the new permit bars occupancy of more than 200 people. Under the agreement, the city will drop the lawsuit and the center will not seek any damages from the city, according to the Kearney Hub (https://bit.ly/2azgBt5 ).

“I think this is a win/win situation for the Islamic Center and the city of Lexington,” said attorney Claude Berreckman Jr., who represents the center.

In the past 10 years, immigrants from Somalia and other African nations have moved to Lexington in search of jobs, particularly at the Tyson meatpacking plant.

The center had wanted to renovate the downtown property that it’s occupied for several years and now owns, along with a former laundromat in an adjacent building. But the city lawsuit said a certificate of occupancy hasn’t been obtained and a conditional use permit was required before the former laundromat could be used for religious purposes.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska warned city officials that they were violating the Muslims’ religious rights by denying the permit. The ACLU offered its legal help if the center decided to sue.

City Attorney Brian Copley praised the agreement because the city can enforce the conditions of the permit.

“I don’t think the city wants to dedicate its manpower and resources to a lawsuit,” Copley said.

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