STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (WJBK) -
The battle over construction of a potential mosque in Sterling Heights continues - and now a federal lawsuit has been filed.
"Very few people watching tonight would want a giant 60 feet mosque plopped down across the street in this residential neighborhood," said attorney Robert Muise.
Muise is speaking on behalf of seven Chaldean-Americans who have filed a lawsuit against the city of Sterling Heights and its mayor. This, after a contentious battle that eventually allowed the city to enter into a consent agreement and move forward on a mosque - which would be located on15 Mile between Mound and Ryan roads.
"By entering into this settlement agreement they circumvented the zoning ordinances, they circumvented the protections provided to neighboring property owners," Muise said.
Many nearby residents - some who are not part of this lawsuit have been against the mosque, feared their property values would plummet and traffic would only increase. There were also plenty of negative comments focused on the Islamic faith often pitting Iraqi-Americans against Muslims.
Initially the city council denied the mosque. The department of justice and American Islamic Community Center sued the city last month. After changes to the proposal were made, Sterling Heights turned around and entered the consent agreement allowing the mosque - which would be the third one in the city to move forward.
Muise claims not only did the city violate its zoning ordinances - they violated many people's First Amendment rights.
"The fact that other private citizens might make public comments can't be attributable to the government, that is their right to free speech," Muise said. "I know people want to shut down any criticism of Islam at these public meetings but you can't do that under the First Amendment.
Although throughout this two-year process - many Christians protested the mosque, Muise says this lawsuit has nothing to do with religious discrimination - only zoning criteria.
They plan to file a preliminary injunction - hoping the judge will stop the process before it starts.
"We don't want construction to begin on this project before we had our full day in court," Muise said.
Sterling Heights responded that it has not been served with a complaint and that it would be "premature to comment prior to a thorough review of the allegations and an opportunity to consult with city officials."