AP, July 7, 2008
Officials of a rural Maryland town illegally discriminated against a Muslim group by barring them from building a mosque and holding annual conventions on land zoned for farming, the property’s owner claims in a federal lawsuit.
Developer David Moxley and his father had planned to sell 224 acres in Walkersville to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA for about $6 million. The Silver Spring-based religious group canceled the deal earlier this year after the town’s three-member Board of Zoning Appeals voted unanimously to reject their request for a special exception to land-use restrictions.
Officials of the town of 5,600 based their denial largely on open space preservation concerns and fears that the thousands of people attending the group’s annual, three-day Jalsa Salana national convention would overwhelm the community’s roads and emergency services.
Moxley said the convention each June draws an average of 4,500 people. This year’s gathering, held in Harrisburg, Pa., drew nearly 10,000 to see the group’s spiritual leader making a rare U.S. visit, event coordinator Harris Zafar said.
David and Robert Moxleys’ complaint, to be filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, alleges that town leaders conspired to block the Ahmadis by adopting new agricultural land-use restrictions, including one barring places of worship, after the group publicly announced its plans for the site.
Storzer [Roman P. Storzer, the Moxleys’ lawyer] said the lawsuit seeks a court order forcing the town to permit the uses sought by the Ahmadis, a declaration that the town violated civil-rights protections and payment of unspecified damages to the Moxleys.
The Ahmadiyya, or Ahamdis, believe that their spiritual leader, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908, was a prophet of God. They regard themselves as Muslims but they have been barred from practicing their faith in Pakistan, resulting in violent clashes with hard-line Muslims.