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Horn Lake ordered to approve plans for first-ever mosque in Desoto County, Mississippi

A federal judge said Horn Lake’s denial of zoning approval for the Abraham House of God mosque violated federal law.

HORN LAKE, Miss — A Federal judge has ordered Horn Lake officials to approve plans for a mosque to be built in the city.

According to a consent decree issued Monday, January 3, 2022, by Judge Michael P. Mills of the Northern District of Mississippi, Horn Lake’s denial of zoning approval for the Abraham House of God mosque violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.

The consent decree comes after a lawsuit filed in November by the ACLU, its Mississippi chapter, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, which claimed Horn Lake alderman denied approval for the Abraham House of God mosque, even though the property for the mosque was located in an area zoned for houses of worship. The complaint said the mosque’s site plan “met or exceeded” all requirements for approval.

According to the ACLU, one alderman claimed the plaintiffs’ “religion says they can lie or do anything to the Jews or gentiles because we’re not Muslims.” The complaint said one city leader admitted the plan was rejected “because they’re Muslims.”

RELATED: Lawsuit filed after Horn Lake denied approval for new mosque

Under the terms of the consent decree issued Monday night by the court, Horn Lake and other defendants agreed to approve plans to permit construction of the mosque, which will the ACLU said will be the first ever in DeSoto County, Mississippi. The decree also said the city must act quickly in the future to address building-related matters like permitting. The defendants must also pay $25,000 for expenses related to appealing the denial, and pay for attorney fees and costs.

The ACLU said, “The federal district court will have continuing jurisdiction over the action for a period of five years to facilitate the enforcement of the consent decree.”

“We are heartened and relieved that we are able to move ahead with our plans for a mosque in Horn Lake, which will provide a critical local house of worship for my family and other Muslims in the community to gather and practice our faith freely and without discrimination,” said Plaintiff Riyadh Elkhayyat, co-founder of the Abraham House of God mosque, in a release.

“A wrong has been rectified with this order. People of every faith should have a safe place to worship, including the Muslim community of Desoto County,” said ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director Joshua Tom.