Judge OKs Muslim cemetery in Castle Rock Township
A Dakota County district judge has cleared the way for a controversial Islamic cemetery in Castle Rock Township.
Judge David L. Knutson ruled Jan. 29 that the township must issue a permit to the Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association.
Knutson said the township board of supervisors’ decision last year to deny the permit was “arbitrary and capricious.”
The association sued in May after the township rejected its application, claiming a loss of tax revenue and concern the property wouldn’t be maintained.
In addition, the board objected that the cemetery could not be open to the public.
“It’s a victory for the community and a victory for people of all different faiths,” Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Minnesota, said of Knutson’s ruling.
Sandy Weber, chairwoman of township board, declined to comment.
Township attorney Jessica Schwie said Knutson’s order was “well considered.”
“The town is determining what it will do next,” Schwie said.
The cemetery association said in its lawsuit that the site at 1120 220th St. was first proposed for use as a cemetery in March 2014.
But the township board rejected the original property owner’s application and denied an appeal, despite the recommendation of the Castle Rock Planning Commission.
The association bought the land in November 2014 and again applied for a permit.
However, the board refused to review the application until the following August, saying it was “essentially … a resubmission.”
CAIR noted in a news release Monday that Knutson’s ruling challenged the township’s claim that the cemetery would mean the loss of $17,000 in property tax revenue.
In 2014, the judge said, the township collected just $1,285 in taxes for the property, according to CAIR.
The Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association plans to develop the first 20 acres of the 73-acre site to accommodate an estimated 35,000 burials.
The association predicts the cemetery will serve Minnesota’s Islamic community’s needs for the next 200 years.
While Minnesota already has two Islamic cemeteries in Roseville and Burnsville, they reportedly are nearing capacity.
The Castle Rock cemetery will address a growing need as the metro Twin Cities Muslim population continues to grow, while also making Islamic burials more affordable for lower-income families, Hussein said.
“Over time, there tends to be more diversity in neighborhoods and communities, and that change should be welcomed,” Hussein said.
“Discrimination should not be hidden in language of land use.”
In October, CAIR claimed the township board changed its zoning ordinance to block creation of a cemetery, even though cemeteries were permitted at the time of the applications.
The group asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the case to determine whether anti-Muslim discrimination was a factor.
Hussein said the federal investigation was still in its preliminary stages and CAIR-MN was deciding how to pursue the matter.
“It’s still on the table,” Hussein said.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.