The U.S. Attorney's Office in Minneapolis announced Monday it is launching a formal investigation into the rejection of a proposed Islamic center in St. Anthony.
Jeanne Cooney, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, says the agency began a "preliminary" review of the case in June after the St. Anthony City Council voted down the proposed the Abu Huraira Islamic Center. Now the federal agency has "formalized the investigation" and is moving forward on it.
"I would consider this an administrative development," Cooney said. "We continue to look into it."
The Minnesota Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked federal authorities to investigate after the Islamic center was rejected by the city council, which ruled that a religious and cultural center was incompatible with the site's light-industrial zoning.
That came after a meeting where some St. Anthony residents expressed opposition to the project and where some made disparaging remarks about the Muslim faith.
The Minnesota chapter of CAIR lauded the move by the U.S. Department of Justice to formally investigate whether the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
"We applaud the commitment by the U.S. Department of Justice to uphold federal laws and take a strong stance against recent anti-mosque bigotry in Minnesota and nationwide," said CAIR-MN Executive Director Lori Saroya, in a released statement.
St. Anthony city leaders have maintained the decision was grounded solely in land-use issues. Cooney said the U.S. Attorney's Office would like to reach an out of court agreement with all parties involved in the case.
CAIR-MN reports the St. Anthony Islamic center is the fourth mosque opposition incident in Minnesota in the past year. The other three mosque projects - Plymouth, Willmar and Bloomington - were eventually approved despite community opposition.
The Muslim group proposing the Islamic center recently purchased for $1.9 million the former Medtronic Inc. headquarters in St. Anthony, where it had planned to establish the Islamic center in the basement area of the building.