Palos Heights Discrmination Case Continues

August 10, 2000

Source: The New York Times

On August 10, 2000, The New York Times reported that the city of Palos Heights, Illinois, is the target of a federal civil rights lawsuit. The City Council had voted to pay the Al Salam Mosque Foundation $200,000 to walk away from purchasing a church in Palos Heights that they had intended to turn into a mosque. The mosque foundation accepted the buyout offer, but then the mayor of Palos Heights, Dean Koldenhoven, vetoed the buyout, saying he considered it an insult to Muslims. Now the mosque foundation is "seeking $6.2 million, saying the city's handling of the situation amounted to religious discrimination, conspiracy and unwarranted meddling in a private real estate transaction." Rouhy Shalabi, a lawyer for the mosque foundation, said the "mosque found it almost impossible to worship there. There was a cloud hanging over us in terms of not being welcomed by the city. And then the buyout offer was made and vetoed. We were really left with no choice," but to sue.

"The dispute began soon after the mosque foundation signed a $2.1 million contract in March to buy the Reformed Church and sought the city's assurance that it could use the building as a religious institution, just as the church had. At the City Council zoning committee meeting on the matter, some residents and two council members questioned the purpose and practices of the mosque. 'What you are proposing is like upside down,' said Alderwoman Julie Corsi, noting that the Muslim day of worship is Friday. 'Yours is on Friday, and then you are not going to use it on Sunday. It's kind of like comparing apples and oranges...' Later, in a newspaper interview, Alderman Jim Murphy, speaking of how he wished the City Council had acted earlier to try to buy the church for use as a recreation center, said, 'If someone had intervened early on to stop Adolf Hitler, there might not have been a world war.' Mr. Murphy later apologized...The mayor of Palos Heights, Mr. Koldenhoven, condemned the comments. And when Mr. Murphy, the mayor's political rival, proposed the buyout offer in June, Mr. Koldenhoven called it insulting...'We don't want to be known as a city that says we don't want to welcome these people,' the mayor said recently."