October 28, 2020
Issue: Religious Freedom
Thursday Night: Stafford County to Vote on Anti-Muslim Cemetery Ordinance
VA County Changed Rules to Block Low-Cost Cemetery for Muslims
Stafford County, VA—On Thursday, October 29 at 6:30 PM ET Stafford County’s Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission will hold a joint hearing to vote on whether to adopt an ordinance that effectively will repeal two ordinances passed to block a low-cost cemetery for Muslims. On June 8, 2020, Muslim Advocates, Milbank LLP and HMA Law Firm filed a religious freedom law suit against the County and its Board for blocking the cemetery and, on June 19, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice also sued the County.
At issue are two ordinances (from 2016 and 2020) passed with the intent of stopping the construction of the All Muslim Association of America Inc.’s (AMAA) Muslim cemetery. The two ordinances invoked supposed concerns about water quality to justify imposing on AMAA significant burdens deemed unnecessary by several water and soil professionals. The ordinances fail to similarly regulate more likely sources of potential water contamination, and provide a “churchyard” loophole that permits non-Muslim religious cemeteries to evade the requirements.
Stafford County’s biased actions have received local and national attention, with both of the area’s newspapers of record, the Washington Post and the Free Lance-Star, editorializing against it.
Bigoted opposition to Muslim cemeteries is, regrettably, a shockingly common occurrence. Below is a list of 17 Muslim communities who have faced prejudiced opposition and/or permit denials to building a cemetery in recent years:
- 2019 – San Martin, CA, Allen County, IN
- 2018 – Appomattox, VA
- 2017 – Dudley, MA, Tyrone Township, MI, Chisago County, MN, Rock Hill, SC, Farmersville, TX
- 2016 – Cobb County, GA, Newton County, GA, Castle Rock Township, MN
- 2015 – Las Vegas, NV, Walpole, MA, Carlisle, PA
- 2014 – Kuna, ID, Murfreesboro, TN
- 2013 – Bullitt County, KY
Quote from Matt Callahan, senior staff attorney for Muslim Advocates:
“Stafford County wants to discriminate against Muslims even in their death. The county’s actions in passing these ordinances encroaches on one of the most personal and tragic decisions a family can make: where to bury a deceased loved one. These ordinances represent the ugliest kind of discrimination and must be repealed.”
Quote from Mossadaq Chughtai, board member of the All Muslim Association of America:
“It’s hard enough to lose someone you love. Imagine not knowing where you can bury them. For decades we have worked to ensure this would not be an issue for the Muslim community, until now. Stafford County is blocking us from using our own property to help people in their greatest time of sorrow. Muslims deserve to bury our dead, like every other faith community.”
Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. We ensure that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.
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