Justice Department sues Va. county over proposed mosque

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department on Monday filed a lawsuit against Culpeper County, Virginia, over an April board vote that effectively blocked construction of a mosque, the department said in a news release.

The federal complaint alleges that the county’s Board of Supervisors imposed a substantial burden on the Islamic Center of Culpeper (ICC)’s exercise of religion, and that the board was discriminating when it refused to grant a “pump-and-haul” permit for transporting sewage from a septic system.

County officials had told the ICC that such a permit was necessary because its soil, like much soil in the area, could not support a septic system.

The board later voted down the ICC’s permit request in a 4–3 vote, effectively preventing the ICC from building a small mosque on land that it had purchased. The land is located in a zoning district where religious land use is permitted.

The federal complaint alleges, however, that since 1992, the county has considered 26 applications and has never denied such a permit for commercial or religious use.

The board’s vote, prosecutors say, violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

Back in April, Supervisor Sue Hansohn told The Washington Post that she had received complaints from residents expressing fears about the Islamic center.

“The majority of the calls and emails I had was because of the religion, not because it’s a pump-and-haul or environmental reasons,” said Hansohn, who supported the permit.

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