But residents file for appeal to higher court
By LEO HOHMANN
An Obama-appointed judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a group of residents seeking to stop a massive mosque from being built in their Sterling Heights, Michigan, neighborhood. But the residents, many of them Chaldean Christians who escaped persecution in Iraq, say they are nowhere near ready to give up the fight for their city and their community.
News of the decision by U.S. District Court Judge Gershwin Drain swept through Michigan’s large Chaldean community late Wednesday, Aug. 1. Many felt deflated.
“My phone is blowing up with neighbors calling,” one woman involved in the case told me.
These neighbors had read the short, cursory article posted online Wednesday by the Detroit Free Press. An identical article appeared in the state’s other major newspaper, the Detroit News.
“They make it sound like it was only a few people upset by this mosque. It’s basically the whole city,” said the female resident of Sterling Heights, who asked not to be identified. “People are thinking we gave up. The fight is just beginning.”
Judge Drain’s courtroom in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan was not the best venue, said attorney Robert Muise, who noted that Drain was the same judge who signed off on the consent decree the city agreed to enter into with the mosque and the U.S. Justice Department.
Muise, with the American Freedom Law Center, is representing the seven residents who filed suit against the city in March 2017, alleging it violated federal, state and local laws. He said he has already filed for an appeal with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
“The judge’s decision was not surprising at all. I think it’s wrong, and we filed a notice of appeal,” Muise told me. “The ink was not even dry yet and we filed our notice of appeal. Judge Drain may be the first to decide on this case but he won’t be the last.
“We filed in the first place because the city caved in and agreed to a consent decree allowing them to build without any finding that the decree was necessary to comply with any federal law,” Muise added. “Without those findings the city has to comply with its zoning regulations, but it chose to circumvent local laws, which are in place to project the public.”
The American Islamic Community Center, or AICC mosque, already has quite a history with the city of Sterling Heights. Back in the summer of 2015 it submitted plans for a 20,500-square-foot mosque with towering minarets, which was denied by a unanimous 9-0 decision of the planning commission. A packed house of residents at City Hall, many standing in an overflow area outside, were captured on video cheering and celebrating the decision.
But the Shia Muslims wanting to build the mosque found a powerful ally in the Obama administration and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch. The DOJ, in cooperation with the mosque organizers, filed a federal lawsuit against the city alleging discrimination on the basis of religion. The city planning commission’s complaints centered on the fact that the mosque location violated the area’s residential zoning and would bring unwanted traffic congestion, parking, noise and other issues.
Plaintiffs in the suit also alleged a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act, citing Mayor Michael Taylor’s ordering some residents to be escorted from the meeting room. On another occasion he forbade citizen speakers at a meeting from using the words “religion,” “Islam” or “Muslim” in their public comments before the council.
“The city’s decision to enter into the Consent Judgment was a fait accompli,” Muise said. “The city council meeting was a compete sham. Indeed, this meeting was not an example of democracy in action; it was an example of a naked abuse of government power.”
Taylor, re-elected to a second term last year, is a firebrand mayor and a lightning-rod figure in Sterling Heights, the type who is either loved or hated. He has publicly called those opposing the mosque “anti-Muslim bigots.”
Taylor immediately took to Facebook Wednesday evening to celebrate the decision by Judge Drain.
Calls to Taylor’s cellphone Thursday were not returned.
At a protest rally in August 2015 across from the proposed mosque site, Taylor showed up to address the crowd of about 100 people and sounded sympathetic to their concerns. They asked him to sign their petition against the mosque and he refused.
Taylor challenged complaints that the minarets were too tall by posting a photo to Facebook showing a local Catholic church that had a tall statue outside its sanctuary.
“When the mayor came to the rally and he wouldn’t sign the petition, the whole crowd started chanting for him to get the heck out of there, and he ran,” said Tom Mitchell, a longtime Sterling Heights resident and a veteran who served in the 82nd Airborne Division. “He literally ran to his car like a scared kid. There was no sign of aggression but the whole group that was there started hollering at him.”
The crowd was chanting something to the effect of “Get out! Get out!” Mitchell recalls.
Mitchell said Chanel 4, the Detroit area’s NBC affiliate, interviewed him at the rally that day.
“I talked about the mayor’s flip flop on the mosque but they never aired it,” he said. Consider this post where Taylor appears to be against the mosque.
After he was chastised by Muslim leaders in Dearborn for his comments against the mosque, he had a sudden change of heart. In a post to a Dearborn Community Facebook group, Taylor said “I 100 percent support” allowing the mega-mosque to be built in Sterling Heights and apologized “for the pain that my words have caused” the Muslims of Dearborn. In the process, Taylor comes across as a weasel politician prostituting himself for the sake of future election success [perhaps he harbors dreams of running for a higher office in which Dearborn votes would be crucial?].
Taylor wasted no time going on the offensive against his political opponents, spewing invective across social media platforms. In one Facebook post, the cranky mayor responded to a critic: “Go to hell Kevin. Seriously, you’re an asshole.”
On August 13, 2015, the city posted on its website the names and addresses of more than 50 residents who spoke out at a council meeting against the mosque. After the city posted this list of names, several people reported to police incidents of intimidation on or near their property, including men sneaking around homes after midnight. The city was asked to take down the list of names but refused, and it remains online today. One resident told me she purchased a weapon and got trained on how to use it.
“That definitely led to acts of intimidation,” Mitchell said. “This city can be pretty vicious. The mayor and his cronies use the site Sterling Heights Local Politics to publicly denigrate people who disagree with them on city issues.”
The presence of fear and intimidation has been ever present in my conversations with Sterling Heights residents over the past couple of weeks. Of the seven or eight I contacted, only Mitchell was willing to speak on the record. Others shared their experiences privately, or said a few words and hung up after they realized I was a reporter.
Taylor and the city council has also appointed an activist immigration lawyer, Mohammad Alomari, to chair the city’s Ethnic Community Committee.
Alomari has turned the committee into a diversity-promoting propaganda outfit, to the extent that literature was passed out at springtime Cultural Exchange that told residents they were more likely to be killed by a white supremacist than an Islamic terrorist. Immigration lawyers and civil rights attorneys were also reported present at the Cultural Exchange panning for clients. Mosques and Islamic apologists from outside the city were invited to set up booths and pass out free copies of the Quran.
“At every turn, we see this city favoring Islam over other faiths,” Mitchell said.
Leo Hohmann is a veteran journalist and author of the 2017 book “Stealth Invasion: Muslim Conquest through Immigration and Resettlement Jihad.” If you appreciate this type of original, fact-based and independent reporting, please consider a donation of any size to this website. We accept no advertising and are beholden to no one.