July 8, 2008

Landowner to Sue Over Muslim Center

By Sarah Fortney, The Frederick News-Post, Md.

Jul. 7--WALKERSVILLE -- A local landowner who wants to sell property to a Muslim group is taking legal action against the town today.

The Walkersville Board of Zoning Appeals issued a 21-page document about a month ago, formalizing a February decision to reject the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's proposal to build a worship and recreation center on 224 acres of agriculturally zoned land.

Responding to the boards' action, attorney Roman P. Storzer, who represents landowner David Moxley, will file a lawsuit today with the Federal District Court in Baltimore.

Storzer planned to announce the legal action during a press conference this morning at his Washington office.

Moxley's suit challenges the board's decision and alleges Walkersville officials conspired with others to deny the Muslim community's civil rights, Storzer said.

It seeks enforcement of religious freedom protections in the federal and Maryland constitutions and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

The suit also argues the town violated the Fair Housing Act because Moxley has the right to sell property without racial and religious discrimination, Storzer said.

In August, Ahmadiyya announced its intention to buy Moxley's farm at 8939 Woodsboro Pike to build a worship center for 20 local families. The site would also be home to the annual Jalsa Salana festival, which would attract between 5,000 and 10,000 people each June.

Earlier this year, the board cited its concerns about problems that might be caused by the three-day event.

Board members cited more than a dozen reasons for their decision to deny the request, including traffic, the orderly growth of the town and the availability of firefighting equipment.

After 11 days of hearings and hours of deliberations, board members voted Feb. 7 to deny the proposal.

Storzer had 30 days from June 5 to appeal the written decision. Moxley said he decided to follow through with the federal lawsuit to fight for justice.

The town's decision focused on the Muslim community's three-day event, Moxley said, and board members could not "handle one more vehicle on (Md.) 194." Moxley does not believe it was fair to reject the proposal for those reasons; the town's Fourth of July celebrations attracted thousands of people and included loud fireworks, he said.

"There is so much evidence of discrimination," Storzer said.


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