That may be changing, however, now that the St. Anthony City Council has rejected a proposed Islamic center, as the Star Tribune reports:
St. Anthony's rejection of a proposed Islamic center marks the first time in seven years that a new Muslim house of worship has been blocked by a local government in Minnesota.
City leaders said the decision was solely a land-use issue, but Muslim leaders expressed fears that Minnesota may be joining the ranks of other states where proposed mosques and Islamic centers have been blocked by government amid anti-Islamic rhetoric and intense community resistance.
These Muslim leaders are approaching the matter in a thoroughly All-American sort of way -- they are trying to sic the federal government on St. Anthony:
"This is the first one [in Minnesota] where we're seeing so much anti-Muslim hate involved," said Lori Saroya, president of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The Muslim advocacy group asked the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday to investigate allegations of anti-Muslim bias in the rejection of the proposed Abu-Huraira Islamic Center, planned for the basement of the former Medtronic headquarters.
So what exactly is the anti-Muslim hate in St. Anthony?
During a City Council meeting Tuesday night, several residents disparaged the Muslim faith and said the Islamic center was not welcome in the small bedroom community north of Minneapolis. At least one resident said Islam is "evil" and embraces violence.
Following the vote, the imam, Sheikh Ahmed Burale, said his congregation of nearly 200 is still interested in using the St. Anthony space and is considering a court challenge of the council's decision.
A few thoughts:
- The location for this Islamic center is not likely to be problematic for anyone. I drive by the facility every day during my commute and I would doubt that most St. Anthony residents would have even realized it was there if it weren't for the recent publicity.
- It's often typical that religious congregations set up, at least initially, in non-traditional venues. I've attended religious services in old movie theaters and strip mall store fronts. You go where you can find space, so setting up shop in the basement of a suburban office building isn't particularly unusual.
- I don't know if the stated reasons for stopping the center are legitimate or not, but I do think the St. Anthony City Council does have the right to make that determination.
- Having said that, municipal governments are often hostile to proposed projects for any number of reasons. Based on what I know of St. Anthony, I doubt that religious hostility was a factor.
- Should you hold the St. Anthony government responsible for disparaging remarks made in a public forum? I don't think so. I also dislike the notion that Islam, or any religion, cannot be criticized. As a Catholic, I hear my faith criticized quite often. While I dislike such criticism and find it unfair, I'm not inclined to sue those who disparage my faith. I would hope that the imam and his congregation would think hard about getting the federal government involved. I think St. Anthony would, in the end, welcome the congregation, but suing your way in isn't likely to help that happen.