Planning or Prejudice?
Lena Masri, the CAIR attorney handling the case, says residential development under the present zoning could bring in more traffic than the school would. And she believes a law passed in 2000 trumps Pittsfield's master plan: "The federal Religious Institutions Land Use Protection Act says that a zoning commission cannot deny based on technical reasons alone, that if a religious institution is qualified, rezoning cannot be denied unless there's a compelling governmental reason," she says.
Masri says her organization got involved because "we were concerned about the bias and hostility shown at the public meetings. We were concerned that the township's decision to deny was based on religious discrimination and ethnic bias."
That's a serious charge, and it won't be settled soon--"it could be years" before the suit is resolved, Masri says. "And the Department of Justice has launched an investigation as well, so we're dependent to a certain extent on that."
What does the MIA want? "Just a school," replies Masri. "No mosque. The original plan was for a community center and a school, but now, just a school."