DOJ sues Virginia county for blocking construction of Muslim cemetery

DOJ sues Virginia county for blocking construction of Muslim cemetery
© Greg Nash

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit against a county in Virginia for blocking a nonprofit from building an affordable Islamic cemetery for Muslim residents.

The U.S. District Attorney for Eastern Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger filed the lawsuit Friday, saying that by blocking the All Muslim Association of America (AMAA) from building an Islamic cemetery on its own land, Stafford County is impeding on the "free exercise of the religion of the All Muslim Association, in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000."

According to the DOJ complaint, since 1989, the AMAA has provided "low-cost burial services to members of the Islamic faith who live in the Commonwealth of Virginia, State of Maryland, District of Columbia, and other regions of the country."

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The nonprofit owns the only all-Islamic cemetery in Virginia and bought an additional 25 acres in 2015, as the initial cemetery was reaching capacity. The complaint says that the AMAA had met all of the necessary requirements per Virginia law.

However, it adds, Stafford County then began to move the goal posts, passing an ordinance that made the required distance a cemetery has to be from any "terminal reservoir or any perennial stream that drains into a terminal reservoir" from 100 feet — the state of Virginia's requirement — to 900 feet.

The county also passed an ordinance, making the act of establishing a new cemetery "a more expensive and time-consuming procedure than that under the existing cemetery ordinance," the DOJ suit said. Additionally, they included an exemption, which applied only to "churchyards."

"The County’s actions described in this Complaint have caused the All Muslim Association to suffer significant financial loss, including, but not limited to, engineering fees, expert fees, attorneys’ fees and professional fees," the complaint said.

The DOJ suit follows the AMAA filing a complaint of their own on June 8.