STERLING HEIGHTS — The city claims it denied a mosque proposal last year because of planning technicalities, but anti-Muslim social media posts by a planning commissioner who voted against the Muslim house of worship painted a different picture.
“Oh, no the terrorists are gonna attack, according to the media, this weekend. Come to the Detroit Area. They don’t bomb their revenue source,” Sterling Heights Planning Commissioner Jeff Norgrove wrote on Facebook, two months before the mosque was denied.
The post suggests that Arab-owned small businesses in the city finance terrorism.
The American Islamic Community Center announced a lawsuit against the city last week, saying that Sterling Heights violated Muslim residents’ Constitutional rights.
In the legal complaint, AICC attorneys slammed Norgrove’s anti-Muslim sentiments.
Norgrove “posted highly offensive anti-Muslim memes on social media, demonstrating both his bias and ignorance toward” Muslims, the lawsuit reads.
In June 2015, Norgrove shared a post by a conservative social media page, featuring the photo of a pig with bold text that reads, “Share this pig if your (sic) not celebrating Ramadan.”
The administrators of the page commented that they will be fasting on nothing but bacon each day.
While the dietary choices of right wingers are their own business, the posts do cast a doubt over the impartiality of the planning Commission.
The posts have been deleted.
Norgrove was one of nine commissioners who voted “no” to the mosque.
After the final hearing on Sept. 10, in which members of the Commission did not ask a single question, Norgrove described the mosque proposal as “excessive, not compatible”, adding that it “violates ordinances.”
Attorney Mohammed Abdrabboh, who is representing the AICC, described Norgrove’s anti-Muslim social media posts as vile and offensive.
“It’s important to note that these posts were displayed for the public to see,” Abdrabboh said. “They were displayed prior to any vote. The idea that at least some of the planning commissioners didn’t have bias against Muslims is very hard to believe.”
He added that the posts cannot even pass as humor.
Abed Ayoub, the legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), shared a screenshot of one of Norgrove’s posts with Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor on Twitter.
“@MayorMikeTaylor – can you condemn the commissioners comments? Are they representative of #SterlingHeights?” Ayoub asked.
“Yes and no,” Taylor responded.
Norgrove could not be reached for
Sterling Heights responds
Sterling Heights responded to the AICC lawsuit last week, emphasizing the city’s history of religious diversity.
The city said in a statement that the Planning Commission’s decision was “based on established land use criteria and not emotional feelings tied to religious beliefs either for or against the applicant.”
The press release cited houses of worships for different religions, including existing mosques in the city, as evidence of Sterling Heights’ inclusiveness.
“Sterling Heights is a community that has and continues to welcome diversity through many programs and events,” the statement reads. “For many years, the city has been known in metro Detroit as a premier community—in large part because of its diverse population representing a wide variety of cultures, ethnicities and races.”
Abdrabboh said past inclusiveness does not exonerate the city of prejudice in the particular case of the AICC mosque.
“They do have some diversity, but that’s not the issue,” Abdrabboh said. “The issue is that there was a mosque that met all the requirement and it was illegally denied … You can’t defend yourself against the charge of discrimination based on your prior history.”
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