Attorney General Loretta Lynch (R) with Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, at the Justice Department headquarters in Washington on July 8, 2016. (AP photo)
The US Justice Department is suing a town near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for religious discrimination because it refused to issue a permit for a mosque in 2014.
The suit, which was filed Thursday, seeks to have Bensalem Township give the Bensalem Masjid approval to build the mosque, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
The suit also seeks to have the township pay unspecified damages and offer training for the town’s employees on religious land-use laws.
Members of the local Islamic community sought to build a mosque after years of renting a local fire hall for worship, but as plans moved forward, the Bensalem Township Zoning Hearing Board ultimately rejected the application in a 4-0 vote.
“Our Constitution protects the rights of religious communities to build places of worship free from unlawful interference and unnecessary barriers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“The Department of Justice will continue to challenge unjustified local zoning actions around the country when they encroach upon this important civil right.”
The Bensalem Masjid has been involved in the legal action against the town since 2014.
The Masjid's lead attorney, Roman Storzer, says the Justice Department's lawsuit demonstrates the seriousness of the problem in the town.
Islamophobia has recently spiked in the US following the recent mass shootings and terror attacks in the US and Europe that were falsely blamed on followers of the Islamic faith.
Anti-Islam rhetoric has also hit the US presidential election of 2016, with GOP candidate Donald Trump creating a furor in the country and around the world by proposing to ban Muslims from entering the US.
The billionaire real-estate mogul also called for a database to track Muslims across the United States, and said the US would have no choice but to close down mosques.

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