Update: January 27, 2011: The Temecula City Council unanimously approved the mosque, despite vocal opposition.
New York, NY, January 20, 2011 … The Interfaith Coalition on Mosques (ICOM) today called on the Temecula, California city council to approve construction of an Islamic center and resist a campaign of fear and slurs, including a reference to the proposed mosque as a "refuge for terrorists."
In a letter to the mayor and members of the Temecula city council, the members of ICOM urged them to support the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley's application for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to build a mosque. The letter, prepared by the Anti-Defamation League on behalf of ICOM, notes that the local planning commission granted the permit in December 2010, determining that the proposed mosque "complied with local laws and would be aesthetically suitable to the community."
Opponents appealed that decision to the city council; a hearing on the mosque proposal is scheduled for January 25.
In addition to voicing fears that the proposed center "would be a refuge for terrorists," opponents' objections included those of a pastor whose church sits across from the proposed site, who reportedly said that Islam and Christianity are like "oil and water" and that Islam is "intolerant at its core."
"We understand that such comments echo the fears and/or slurs that some Americans express toward Islam, but we urge you not to give in to them," wrote members of ICOM. "In the words of Abraham Lincoln, we would appeal to the better angels of our nature and ask you to instead honor the great American tradition of freedom of religion for all and of showing respect for all religions."
The ICOM letter asserts that the city council should use "California's and America's well-settled and robust history of religious tolerance as its guiding principle," emphasizing that "the denial of the right to build a religious facility is fundamentally inconsistent with that principle."
ICOM cited the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) as mandating government approval of the mosque since a reversal of the planning commission's determination would "substantially burden" the Islamic center's exercise of religion. Given that the planning commission has already determined that the proposed mosque met all appropriate neutral criteria, rejecting the permit at this point would likely constitute unlawful religious discrimination and would subject the council and the town to legal liability. In ICOM's words, "governments are unequivocally barred from using religious bias or bigotry in their decision making about land use."
The Interfaith Coalition on Mosques was formed in early September to assist those Muslim communities confronting opposition to the legal building, expansion or relocation of their mosques. The coalition is comprised of prominent individuals and organizations from different faith traditions – Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Muslim and Jewish.