LINCOLN, Neb – The ACLU of Nebraska has informed the City of Lexington that its denial of a business zoning permit to a local Islamic Center is a violation of federal law and fundamental religious liberties. The Islamic Center in downtown Lexington recently purchased additional space in the building it already occupies. In late December 2015 the City of Lexington denied a use permit for the expansion of the Islamic Center.
“For fifty years the ACLU of Nebraska has stood beside people of many faith traditions and defended their religious freedoms,” said ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad. “Religious freedom is one of our most highly treasured values and among our most highly protected civil rights. Governmental restriction on religious activity requires the government to meet a very high standard and is rarely considered a legitimate exercise of state power. In this instance, the city of Lexington has failed to demonstrate a compelling interest to limit protected religious activity in their downtown area.”
The ACLU’s letter to the City Manager urges the city to provide all necessary permits to the Islamic Center. Treating the Islamic Center differently than any other entity, regardless of the zoning, is a violation of federal law. The City’s stated concerns about “parking” and “growth of downtown” are, according to the ACLU, not sufficient concerns to treat the Islamic Center differently than other downtown establishments that have purchased space.
This is not the first time that the ACLU has intervened when zoning laws were used against a religious entity in Nebraska. In 2004, the ACLU of Nebraska defended the Church of the Awesome God, a Presbyterian church, from forced eviction under the City of Lincoln’s zoning laws. The ACLU of Nebraska also challenged city ordinances requiring religious organizations to meet safety standards not imposed on non-religious groups and is currently defending the first amendment rights of an evangelical citizen criminally prosecuted in the City of Lincoln for sharing his religious pamphlets in the public square.
To learn more about religious freedom cases from the ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/other/aclu-defense-religious-practice-and-expression-pdf