Chicago Sun-Times
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Mosque at ground zero: Is it illegal to deny request?


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


Thank you, Lynn Sweet. Yours is the only news I've seen that cuts through the politics and gets to the truth. The truth is there's a federal law, sponsored and unanimously approved by the Republicans in 2000, to protect religions institutions from being denied zoning approval based on religion. In this case, Republicans and some Democrats have situational memory loss when it comes to putting politics ahead of facts.

No one with an IQ over 12 believes that this mosque is anything more than a slap in the face to America, what she stands for, and the families of the victims.

My long-time friend Dan Lauber makes an excellent point that exposes the foolish viciousness of the anti-"mosque" position. Other points: there are already real mosques in Lower Manhattan, and there is one in the Pentagon that was there before September 11. In their religious discrimination the anti-"mosque" forces would bring us down to the ninth-century level of the Taliban. True American reactionaries, these people.
Frank Popper
Rutgers and Princeton Universities,
732-932-4009, X689

Building a mosque at ground zero, has nothing to do with the religion, that was an act of terror, that happened at the hands of so called Muslims, do we hold the entire religion and people accountable. If that's the case we have a whole lot of others to hold accountable for the horrors they inflicted on others. I'm glad to know that there is a law that would prohibit them the right to deny the mosque to be built. Why are we such hypocrites, America was founded on religious beliefs, go and update your history. Oh yeah, now can I say you're being unAmerican, As President Obama was accussed of so often. He is the President for all people of America, and justly so cannot base his decisions on feelings, but what is right, written in the constitution and good for America, here and abroad. When has the GOP done this, it is only politics to them, forget politics, do for once what you were voted in to do, the right thing for the people of America and not you. Stop worrying about the polls, and do what's right for a change. You cannot hold a religion accountable for a bunch of murders, you cannot paint every Muslim with the same brush. I know it's hard for you to do, but try it you might like it for once, do the right thing.

Why are we such hypocrites, America was founded on religious beliefs, go and update your history.

Sandra, I would state at least one principle America was founded on was the Euro-centic religious ideology gone awry from which individuals sought freedom from on the continent of Europe.

This is what make America hypocritical because these present citizens whom ancestors fled religious persecution have become self-righteous when trying to express her / his personal feelings upon others.

On another note, I believe the Democrats were saving that info nugget Dan Lauber mention for political fighting as the nation gets closer to Fall election date. Republicans know it is against the law and those who support the right-wing and tea party know it is against the law to hinder the building of the mosque.

Once upon a time it was illegal to hinder the movements and living arrangements of Black Americans, but it did not stop the powers that be to do it any way.

What amazes me is there are so many who are willing to follow and / or think like Rep. (R.) Peter King instead of telling him that is not in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.

These same individuals want to repeal the 14th Amendment to hinder the growth of this nation because of individuals coming here from south of the border.

If these individuals had their way, the entire U.S. Constitution would be re-written to only benefit their ethnicity.

@Jamie: "No one with an IQ over 12 believes that this mosque is anything more than a slap in the face to America, what she stands for, and the families of the victims."

What a bizarre assertion, do you have some evidence for this? They did an IQ test/poll?

A couple of pesky facts:

1) it isn't a mosque
2) one of the fundamental things America stands for is freedom of religion (how is celebrating this a slap in the face?)

The terrorists were all men. Perhaps we should deny men's clubs, or businesses that cater to men from the vicinity too?

Would you, I wonder, oppose the building of a Catholic Church if it was too close to the site of the former Alfred P Murrah building in Oklahoma City? That was the building destroyed (along with 168 souls) by Catholic terrorist Timothy McVeigh.

The mosque is not looked down upon just because it is for Muslims. The un-aggresive Muslims are allowed in this country and welcome. However the mosque is looked down upon because of the fact that we were attacked by a highly-aggressive group with the same political and religious beliefs. We are not prejudist, we are smart. So, what does that make you Frank Popper and Dan Lauber?

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on August 17, 2010 9:08 AM.

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