The Adam Group purchased this building, which operates as a restaurant, and asked for variances needed to use the space as a mosque/community center.

The Adam Group purchased this building, which operates as a restaurant, and asked for variances needed to use the space as a mosque/community center.

Photo by Terry Oparka

Justice Department claims bias by city against Muslim group

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published September 25, 2019

 Adam Group members currently own and operate this restaurant on Rochester Road.

Adam Group members currently own and operate this restaurant on Rochester Road.

Photo by Terry Oparka


TROY — The U.S. Department of Justice has filed suit against the city of Troy alleging that the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 in not allowing a Muslim community group to establish a mosque.

RLUIPA is a federal law that protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 19, states that the city treated a place of worship worse than equivalent nonreligious assemblies in its zoning code by denying zoning variances to the Adam Community Center, which was seeking to establish a place of worship.

“Zoning laws that treat mosques, churches, synagogues and other religious assemblies less favorably than nonreligious assemblies illegally restrict religious exercise in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act,” Eric Dreiband, an assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, said in a prepared statement. “The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that local governments do not discriminate against faith communities in violation of federal law.”

“Troy is obligated to treat religious assemblies and institutions on equal terms with nonreligious assemblies and institutions,” Matthew Schneider, a United States attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said in the release. “This complaint reflects our commitment to protect the religious liberties of all people in this district.”

The complaint, filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, alleges that in 2018, the city of Troy denied zoning approval for Adam Community Center, an organization of Muslims who live and work in Troy, to operate a place of worship.

Adam Community Center had acquired the former Marinelli’s restaurant to use as a community center and place of worship.

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said via email Sept. 19 that the city had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

A city-issued media statement reads: “We presume this new lawsuit raises many of the same allegations that were included in the lawsuit that Adam Community Center filed against the city several months ago challenging a decision of Troy’s Zoning Board of Appeals denying Adam’s request for seven variances. … The city vehemently denies that it engaged in any impropriety or discrimination, and it is aggressively defending the lawsuit. The Zoning Board of Appeals denied the variances because it was not persuaded that Adam met its burden to demonstrate entitlement to the variances in accordance with the standards set forth in the city’s zoning ordinance. These same standards are applicable to all applicants that seek a variance.”

In November 2018, the Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of the Adam Community Center naming the city of Troy, the City Council, the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals and each individual member of the Zoning Board of Appeals as defendants.

CAIR-MI Staff Attorney Amy V. Doukoure told C & G Newspapers Sept. 19 that that lawsuit has not been resolved.

Variances needed
Adam asked the ZBA at a June 19, 2018, meeting to consider variances required to build a mosque/community center at 3635 Rochester Road. The site, located in a general business zoning district, contains a restaurant and banquet hall.

Adam asked for a variance from the requirement that front-, side- and rear-yard setbacks be a minimum of 50 feet; a variance to allow parking within the required 50-foot setbacks; and a variance to allow areas within the required 50-foot setbacks to not be maintained as landscaped open space.

The ZBA voted 6-0 to deny the request.

“Troy’s official website lists 55 places of worship in the city, including at least one Jewish synagogue, one Hindu temple and many Christian churches. The list does not include Adam or any other Islamic place of worship,” states the Sept. 19 lawsuit. “In 2011, Troy modified its zoning ordinance to also allow places of worship as by-right uses in the city’s general business, community business, integrated industrial, and business, office, office mixed use, research center and form-based districts.”

Doukoure said CAIR-MI notified the U.S. Department of Justice in June of last year about the denial of the variances and has been working with the department since then, leading it to make the determination that “they believe Troy is violating federal law.”

She added that the site is currently operating as a restaurant owned by members of Adam Community Center: Sakura Japanese Steak House and Sushi.

“We are really happy the Department of Justice is suing the city for a violation we know exists,” Doukoure said, noting that over 3,000 Muslims live in Troy without a single place of worship.

“It’s appalling to think they would have such a large population and deny them a place of worship,” she said.

Adam Community Center could not be reached for comment by press time.