CHICAGO
08/27/2010 03:21 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

DuPage County Debates Ban On New Religious Facilities

For months, the people of DuPage County have been in a heated debate over...zoning.

Suburban zoning problems are pretty common. "His fence is in my yard" arguments can go on for years. But this particular zoning concern has led to allegations of racism and religious discrimination.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the DuPage County Board has proposed a ban on opening new religious facilities in unincorporated residential areas of the county. The push for legislation comes after proposals to expand or build three Muslim sites on such property were made--and following a lawsuit filed against the county by an Islamic group.

In January, the DuPage County Board voted to reject the Irshad Learning Center's request for a conditional use permit to allow a Muslim worship facility and school to operate in Naperville, the Naperville Sun reported in January. The Board said the facility would be "inconsistent with the subdivisions that have been built around the 3-acre site," but Irshad leaders and some Muslim community members saw the rejection as blatant discrimination. The group filed a lawsuit against the county soon after, alleging just that.

Since the Naperville situation, the DuPage board has also debated about a Muslim group wanting to open a religious facility in Willowbrook, and another wanting to expand an Islamic center near West Chicago, according to the Tribune.

The proposed zoning ban covers a wide range of property uses, according to the Daily Herald, but people have focused particularly on the religious aspects. The board called accusations of racism "inflammatory," and said other factors motivated the proposal. From the Herald:

There are currently 79 places of assembly operating in unincorporated parts of the county. About 90 percent of those facilities are in residential areas, county zoning coordinator Paul Hoss said.

Roads, water and sewer systems in residential areas of unincorporated DuPage weren't designed to handle the increased use that comes with places of assembly, Hoss said.

The board also told the Tribune that the zoning proposal coinciding with the Muslim center proposals was coincidental.

"Where do you want us to worship -- Iowa?" Naimman Sour of Villa Park said at a Thursday meeting, according to the Tribune. "People need to worship close to their homes. Don't use fear tactics on people. DuPage County is changing. A lot of people are moving here from Chicago. Islam is everywhere now."

Religious groups could sue the county under a federal statute that bans governments from burdening religious institutions by imposing land regulations if the zoning charges are approved.

Land law specialist and attorney Mark Daniels questioned the need for the zoning changes, according to the Herald, saying there are other ways the county could approach their zoning issues.

"The best areas of most communities have historically been around religious uses," he said. "You can't cut off your head to pop a pimple."

The board will meet again to discuss the measure on Sept. 27.