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Muslim civil rights group sues MN town that rejected Islamic cemetery

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The Minnesota chapter of a national Muslim advocacy group believes a small Minnesota town may have been discriminating when it denied a proposal for an Islamic cemetery.

The group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Minnesota (CAIR-MN), is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to "investigate allegations of anti-Muslim bias" in Castle Rock Township, where applications for the burial ground were repeatedly rejected last year, according to a news release.

CAIR-MN says the first application was rejected in August 2014, when plans for a Muslim cemetery were submitted by the property's original owner. The owner appealed the rejection, "but the (township) board took the position that an appeal was not permitted."

Later, when the Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association had assumed ownership of the land, the board rejected another, separate application, on the grounds that "an application had already been submitted and denied" before.

This is despite the fact that zoning regulations in the area allowed for a cemetery on the proposed site, and that the cemetery association had satisfied "all of the conditions set by the planning commission," CAIR-MN says.

What's more, the group notes, zoning ordinances were changed after the denial so that cemeteries were no longer allowed there.

The cemetery association is now suing over the matter, with hearings in a Minnesota State District Court in Dakota County set for Tuesday, CAIR-MN says.

“It is truly a sad day when Minnesota Muslims are denied their final resting place simply because of their faith,” CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein said in the release.

The group had a 2 p.m. press conference at the Dakota County Judicial Center Monday.

For its part, the board had "expressed concerns" that a cemetery could potentially bring a "loss of a 'lot of tax base'" in the area, MPR News writes.

Castle Rock Township officials had no comment on the proceedings, the Associated Press reported.

Other alleged discrimination in Minnesota

Around the same time of the accused application denials in Castle Rock last year, the Minneapolis suburb of St. Anthony was sued by the federal government over a similar matter – a proposed Islamic center.

Islamic group Abu-Huraira had submitted an application to open their mosque in the defunct Medtronic building, but the city council rejected the request, saying city zoning wouldn't support the facility.

The move brought allegations of religious discrimination, but the dispute was ultimately resolved with a settlement that allowed Abu-Huraira to build their Islamic center.

And two years ago, an Islamic center in St. Cloud was the subject of much public debate, with about 300 people – both in favor and opposed – showing up to at least one public meeting on the plans for the proposed facility.

The city finally voted to allow the plans – which included a school and community center – to go forward, with the condition that the project be built in two phases.

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