STERLING HEIGHTS, Michigan – To the surprised outrage of local Muslim leaders and the raucous delight of this Detroit suburb's large Iraqi Christian population, the Planning Commission on Thursday rejected a much-debated plan to build a mosque in a residential neighborhood.
After the decision, a boisterous crowd outside the meeting at Sterling Heights City Hall chanted "No More Mosques," hurled anti-Islam epithets at women in headscarves and waved American flags.
At Thursday’s City Hall meeting, none of the speakers made derogatory remarks about Muslims or Islam. Instead, several residents worried about the traffic and parking problems that the mosque, which would stand on 4.3 acres along a major thoroughfare, would create.
“For the neighbors who live north, south, east and west of where this building will be, for those who like to sit out on our patios and enjoy the sunrise and sunset, why should we allow a six-story building to block those views?” resident Kenyon Cleghorn asked. “It doesn't make sense.”
Still, outside City Hall, hundreds of opponents of the mosque rallied before the meeting and roared with delight after the vote rejecting the mosque. They chanted, “God Bless America,” and many jeered and lodged anti-Islam epithets at women in headscarves as they left City Hall. One of the women replied with a smile, saying, “We love you all.”
“The Constitution will prevail,” said Linda Dbouk, another of the women, while a man screamed at her that she was a terrorist. “I mean, we’ll take it to the Supreme Court if we have to.” Later, on Twitter, Dbouk seemed more rattled, writing, “I knew Muslims were disliked but I never knew it was to this extent. Hate doesn't even begin to describe what these people feel towards us.”
Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on Arab-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Al Jazeera America after the vote that he expects that CAIR and the mosque leadership will seek a Justice Department review of the city’s process for reviewing this request. He cited a 2000 federal law that bars cities from rejecting special use permits based on religious enmity.
Sterling Heights officials seem to be anticipating that prospect. Mayor Michael Taylor issued a statement via email to the media that read in part: “The recent application for the special approval land use to construct a mosque was considered by the City's Planning Commission based on objective land use criteria and not emotional feelings tied to religious beliefs either for or against the applicant. Sterling Heights has a solid reputation for inclusiveness and tolerance reflected in a wide variety of places of worship across the City, including a Sikh Temple, a Buddhist Temple and two existing mosques.”