News Feature | December 27, 2016

Sewage Is Excuse For County To Block Mosque, U.S. Says

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

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A Virginia county is using sewage regulations as an excuse to block the construction of a mosque, according to allegations from the Justice Department.

The department filed a lawsuit this month “contending that Culpeper County, VA, “acted in a discriminatory manner in denying an approval needed for the construction of an Islamic house of worship there,” The Washington Post reported.

Sewage regulations are at the center of the fight in Culpeper County, which currently has no operating mosques, the report said. The closest mosque is 45 minutes away by car.

“The Justice Department suit alleges that the board of supervisors discriminated against the Islamic Center of Culpeper by denying a sewage permit for pumping and hauling waste from the premises, effectively blocking the construction of a mosque for the group. Without a house of worship, 20 or so local Muslims have gathered in a train station and in other borrowed spaces for their Friday congregational prayers,” McClatchy Washington Bureau reported.

The county health department told the Islamic Center it would need to use the pump-and-haul method of sewage removal at its site, but the Justice Department says that decision made it impossible to build the mosque, according to The Washington Post. The Justice Department says the county “made use of the pump-and-haul permit process as a means to bar a use that the board did not want,” according to the report.

County officials say the decision had nothing to do with religion. County attorney Bobbi Jo Alexis said the county considers the Justice Department lawsuit “ill-informed.”

“She said the county had based its actions on health concerns rather than on questions of religion. In a letter sent last week to Justice, she wrote that pump-and-haul of sewage could cause contamination. She also said the Islamic Center did not show the supervisors that it had addressed alternatives to pump and haul,” the Post reported.

Various observers support the Justice Department’s position. The Washington Post editorial board argued in a recent editorial: “Bias and bigotry have a thousand disguises and are exercised under an infinite variety of ploys and pretexts. In Culpeper County, Va., where a proposal to build a mosque for the county’s tiny Muslim community met an outpouring of local intolerance, the bigotry masqueraded as a dispute over sewage.”

Image credit: "35/365," Krystian Olszanski © 2010, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: