WASHINGTON--President Obama triggered a controversy with his comments about a mosque near ground zero in Manhattan. Chicago attorney Dan Lauber posed this question: Why would "Republicans opposing the mosque near Ground Zero... Break (a) federal law they passed in 2000?"
Lauber, a land use and zoning expert with offices in suburban River Forest, wonders why the White House has not "bothered to mention that a federal law that's just adored by the Republicans (who wrote it) makes it illegal to deny the requested zoning for the proposed Muslim mosque near Ground Zero? You've got to wonder, doesn't anybody there have any institutional history? For heavens sake, as I write this, the Justice Department is pursuing lawsuits based on this law."
Here's more of Lauber's take:
"Lost in all the political demagoguery about the proposed Muslim mosque and cultural center blocks from Ground Zero is the fact that denying zoning approval would violate one of the Republicans' favorite pieces of federal law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
"Sponsored by Senator Orin Hatch and passed unanimously by both houses of Congress in July 2000, this law clearly states "No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation that discriminates against any assembly or institution on the basis of religion or religious denomination." [emphasis added]
"The only reason anybody opposes this center is that it is Muslim -- a religious denomination. As a long-time zoning attorney and city planner, it's extremely clear to me that denial would be a blatant violation of this federal law that these same Republicans wrote and unanimously supported ten years ago.
"This law was passed in large part to prevent public opinion from denying zoning approval to religious uses. Now Republicans like Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) tell CNN's "State of the Union" that the zoning approval should be denied because public opinion is against it. Republican strategist Ed Rollins tells "Face the Nation" that this proposal will be an issue Republicans will hang around the necks of Democrats in the fall.
If the City of New York denies the zoning approval sought for this site, it will blatantly violate RLUIPA and expose the city to one whopping lawsuit that is extremely likely to succeed.
"Now is the time to take the politics out of this discussion and bring the facts to light that a federal law adopted by a Republican Congress makes the denial the Republicans seek blatantly illegal.
"And it's a crying shame that nobody in this debate is paying attention to the RLUIPA law that is at the core of how this zoning application must be decided. Perhaps you can bring rationality to this debate," Lauber said.
Additional information about RLUIPA is available at http://www.rluipa.com/