Palos Heights, Chicago: Controversy over Sale of Church to Muslims

July 29, 2000

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

On July 29, 2000, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that "A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed against the city of Palos Heights by Muslims who say officials prevented them from buying property to use as a place of worship." The Al Salam Mosque Foundation claims that the suburb "violated the group's constitutional right to freedom of religion by refusing to approve zoning for the planned mosque. It also charges Mayor Dean Koldenhoven and all eight aldermen with conspiracy in violation of a civil rights law, alleging that they 'had numerous conversations and meetings to interfere and to prevent the plaintiff purchasing the church and worshipping.' The suit alleges the city breached a contract when it backed out of a $200,000 offer it made to the Muslims to get them to walk away from buying the property."

The Al Salam Foundation had been trying to buy the building for $2.1 million from the Reformed Church of Palos Heights, but were faced with problems when some of the aldermen said the city needed a recreational center at that location. "Over the mayor's objection, the council offered $200,000 to the foundation to walk away from the deal. The Muslims accepted it. But Koldenhoven vetoed the deal, saying it was an "insult" to the Muslims. His veto also stopped the city's plan to buy the building for $2.1 million, the same price the Muslims had planned to pay." If the Foundation had purchased the building for the $2.1 million, they ran the risk of not being able to use the building as a mosque because of zoning laws.