Friday, August 16, 2019

6th Circuit: City Did Not Ban All Mention of Religion At Council Meeting On Mosque Construction

In Youkhanna v. City of Sterling Heights, (6th Cir., Aug. 14, 2019), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges to the manner in which the city of Sterling Heights, Michigan conducted a raucous city council meeting at which settlement of a RLUIPA lawsuit was being considered.  At issue was the city's settlement of a zoning dispute under which the American Islamic Community Center was permitted to build a mosque in the city.  City Council placed limits on the scope of comments that citizens could make during the meeting, and eventually cleared the meeting room when the audience became disruptive.

Plaintiffs objected that their 1st Amendment rights were infringed when the mayor told the audience at the meeting:
We do not need any comments about anybody’s religion, that is not the purpose of this meeting tonight and any comments regarding other religions or disagreements with religions will be called out of order.
The court responded:
This was not, as plaintiffs would have, a ban on talking about religion. This is clear from the fact that comments mentioning religion—including comments mentioning Islam specifically—were allowed when they were relevant to zoning issues....
The court also rejected a number of other challenges to the conduct of the meeting, including an Establishment Clause claim.  Detroit News reports that plaintiffs intend to seek en banc review of he decision.