VICTORY: After Lawsuit, VA County Lifts Block on Muslim Cemetery

Stafford County, VA—At a public hearing on Thursday evening, Stafford County’s Board of Supervisors effectively voted to repeal ordinances that prevented construction of a Muslim cemetery. The vote came after Muslim Advocates, Milbank LLP and HMA Law Firm filed a religious freedom law suit against the county and its board on June 8, 2020 for blocking the cemetery.  The U.S. Department of Justice also sued the County on June 19, 2020.

The All Muslim Association of America, Inc. (AMAA) currently operates a Muslim cemetery in the county that is expected to reach capacity next year. Anticipating this, AMAA in 2015 purchased property to build a new cemetery. In response, the Stafford County Board of Supervisors initiated a rushed and unusual process to pass a new ordinance to thwart the Muslim group’s development efforts. Thursday’s vote effectively repeals both this ordinance and a second ordinance adopted in August 2020 also intended to prohibit AMAA’s cemetery plans. The vote removes a significant hurdle for AMAA in obtaining its cemetery. The group, however, plans to continue legal proceedings to ensure that a cemetery is actually approved and that AMAA is compensated for the unnecessary costs of the county and board’s actions.

“This vote is a long overdue but welcome step forward that brings us closer to building a new cemetery,” said Mossadaq Chughtai, board member of the All Muslim Association of America. “All we want to do is help community members bury their dead. We hope that from this day forward, all people, regardless of their faith, will be able to do the same in Stafford County.”

“Discrimination against Muslims follows them even to their graves but this repeal is a step toward ensuring that Muslims in Stafford County will be able to mourn their dead,” said Muslim Advocates Senior Staff Attorney Matt Callahan. “Across the nation, Muslims trying to build cemeteries have faced similar roadblocks. Our clients have lost significant time and money trying to build their cemetery, and we will keep fighting to ensure that they finally achieve that goal. ” 

“While we remain vigilant in our efforts to protect AMAA’s religious exercise, we are pleased that the county and its board have taken this important action to repeal an unnecessary and substantial infringement of AMAA’s rights,” added Milbank LLP Special Counsel Melanie Westover Yanez.

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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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