Thursday, May 10, 2018

Islamic School Consultant Files Religious Freedom Lawsuit Over Impediments To Its Purchase of Property

WFJM News reported yesterday on a federal court lawsuit filed last month by a consulting firm for Islamic schools over impediments placed in its way as it attempted to purchase a now-vacant 150 acre site in Shenango Township, Pennsylvania from the state.  The property, containing 13 building, was formerly used to provide rehabilitative services and housing for juvenile offenders.  Plaintiff intended to use the site in part for a youth intervention center and partly for an Islamic boarding school.  The complaint (full text) in HIRA Educational Services of North America v. Augustine, (WD PA, filed 4/13/2018), alleges that local residents were unhappy that the property was being sold to an Islamic institution.  At a community meeting, a representative of an advocacy organization opposing the sale falsely claimed that the property would be used as a center for thousands of refugees. State and local officials took a variety of elaborate steps to block the sale, making it impossible for the purchaser to obtain financing for the property. The lawsuit contends that actions by officials to prevent the purchase imposed a substantial burden on religous exercise in violation of RLUIPA, the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act and federal civil rights laws.