A Muslim group sued suburban Morton Grove on Tuesday, asking for $5 million in damages because the village has refused to issue a zoning permit that would clear the way for construction of a mosque.
“We stand here because we have been denied our rights,” Mohammed Kaiseruddin, president of the Muslim Community Center, told a news conference.
Members of the group held up olive branches they said symbolized their willingness to drop the suit if given the special-use zoning permit.
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“All we want is to build our house of worship in our community and offer our prayers in a dignified and comfortable way,” Kaiseruddin said.
The group has maintained a school on the site in the western suburb for the last 13 years and currently holds Friday prayers in the gymnasium.
A year ago it sought permission to build a mosque on the property. Plans call for a mosque that would accommodate 500 worshippers.
The proposal met with criticism from Morton Grove residents who said the mosque would destroy green space and create traffic problems.
Village trustees turned down the request last June.
Kareen M. Irfan, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said at the news conference that one reason for the opposition to the mosque was “an atmosphere of hysteria” concerning Muslims.
“These are extremely sad days,” he said.
Village administrator Ralph Czerwinski did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. A message was left on his voicemail.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court where a group of Morton Grove residents has brought a suit that would curtail the prayer services.
That suit, filed by the Morton Grove Organization on Sept. 5, asks the court to order enforcement of an ordinance it says would require a special-use permit before the Muslim group could hold large gatherings.
Members of the Morton Grove Organization said the lawsuit was designed to preserve trees and available parking, not to curtain prayer services.