A Michigan township will pay an Islamic school $1.7 million as part of a settlement reached after a majority of the planning commission voted against a Muslim group's request to build the facility.
Earlier this week, Pittsfield Township agreed to pay the sum of $1.7 million and allow the Michigan Islamic Academy to begin construction of a 70,000-square-foot school.
Pittsfield agreed to the settlement which was reached after two lawsuits were filed against it by the U.S. Justice Department and the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
In a statement released Thursday, CAIR-MI said the settlement is one of the largest ever settled based on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.
"We welcome the settlement with Pittsfield Township and hope the outcome of this case will serve as a deterrent to other municipalities throughout the country seeking to deny Muslim institutions the right to build or expand their facilities on the basis of religion," stated CAIR-MI Legal Director Lena Masri.
In August 2011, the Pittsfield Township Planning Commission rejected in a vote of 3-2 a request by the Islamic Academy to build a school in the area.
"About 125 residents attended and about 50 spoke during public comment. Most of those opposed to the plan stressed that they have no issue with the school being Islamic, but said their concerns centered around traffic, children's safety and the school being inconsistent with the master plan," the Ann Arbor News reported in 2011.
Later in October 2011, the Pittsfield Township Board of Trustees voted unanimously to affirm the recommendation from the planning commission to reject the rezoning request of the Islamic Academy.
In February 2012, the Islamic Academy and CAIR filed a lawsuit against Pittsfield in district court, accusing the Township of violating their religious liberty under RLUIPA.
The Justice Department eventually filed a suit against Pittsfield in October 2015, with U.S. District Attorney Barbara McQuade writing in a statement that they filed the lawsuit "to protect the right of all Americans to practice their religion and receive the religious instruction and education of their choice."
"This complaint alleges that Pittsfield Township denied the Michigan Islamic Academy's request to build a school in violation of that law," continued McQuade.
"The law prohibits the government from imposing land use regulations that substantially burden religious exercise unless there is a compelling government interest and uses the least restrictive means of doing so."
Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal said in a statement earlier this week that the board's decision to reach a settlement on the two lawsuits does not mean that the Township admits to wrongdoing.
"The township and the board of trustees emphatically deny any wrongdoing, discrimination or violation of law," stated Grewal, as published Thursday by the Detroit News.
"The township's position from the beginning was and continues to be about protecting existing residents in this region from land uses that were not originally envisioned when they purchased their homes."