Palos Heights, Chicago: Controversy over Sale of Church to Muslims

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

On July 29, 2000, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that “A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed against the city of Palos Heights by Muslims who say officials prevented them from buying property to use as a place of worship.” The Al Salam Mosque Foundation claims that the suburb “violated the group’s constitutional right to freedom of religion by refusing to approve zoning for the planned mosque. It also charges Mayor Dean Koldenhoven and all eight aldermen with conspiracy in violation of a civil rights law, alleging that they ‘had numerous conversations and meetings to interfere and to prevent the plaintiff purchasing the church and worshipping.’ The suit alleges the city breached a contract when it backed out of a $200,000 offer it made to the Muslims to get them to walk away from buying the property.”



The Al Salam Foundation had been trying to buy the building for $2.1 million from the Reformed Church of Palos Heights, but were faced with problems when some of the aldermen said the city needed a recreational center at that location. “Over the mayor’s objection, the council offered $200,000 to the foundation to walk away from the deal. The Muslims accepted it. But Koldenhoven vetoed the deal, saying it was an “insult” to the Muslims. His veto also stopped the city’s plan to buy the building for $2.1 million, the same price the Muslims had planned to pay.” If the Foundation had purchased the building for the $2.1 million, they ran the risk of not being able to use the building as a mosque because of zoning laws.


Palos Heights, Chicago: Controversy over Sale of Church to Muslims

Source: The Associated Press

On July 20, 2000, the Associated Press released an article about how the plan to convert a church into a mosque has divided the mostly Christian Chicago suburb of Palos Heights. Yet even with all the “political sniping and accusations of bigotry, residents seemed a little stunned when a federal mediator stood up at a recent city council meeting with an offer to step in.” The council did not immediately accept the offer, but the mayor seemed open to the idea. Some in the small town wish the spotlight had never hit their quiet community, and it might not have if Mayor Dean Koldenhoven “had not vociferously blocked the city council’s plan to pay the Al Salam Mosque Foundation $200,000 to drop its plan” to buy an old church, calling the offer an “insult” to Muslims. Four aldermen continue to insist that they offered the payment so the city could buy the church and “convert it into a much-needed recreation space.”

“He’s the one who says, ‘You are bigots!’…He’s to blame,” Alderman Frank Passarelli yelled at a recent city council meeting, pointing his finger at the mayor. That sentiment has been echoed by several residents, including some calling for his resignation. Yet others say it’s time for Palos Heights to take a good hard look at itself as a community, especially since the church has been for sale for two years with no previous offers from the city. “If you look inside your hearts, you know you do not want a mosque here,” resident Edward Hassan, a real estate developer and Muslim, told the council.


Palos Heights, Chicago: Controversy over Sale of Church to Muslims

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

On July 19, 2000, the Chicago Sun-Times published an article about a group of Muslims in Palos Heights who wish to buy a church and turn it into the city’s first mosque, following a promised mayoral veto of a $200,000 offer for the Muslims to walk away from the project. The Al Salam Mosque Foundation plans to buy the “Reformed Church of Palos Heights building for $2.1 Million, even though many residents and some city council members had hoped to acquire the church for a new recreation center.” Mayor Dean Koldenhoven vowed to veto the city council’s $200,000 offer, saying that “offering a religious group cash to abandon plans for a place to worship is wrong.” Koldenhoven and others insist that many “who oppose the sale to the mosque do so for anti-Muslim reasons.”


Palos Heights, Chicago: Controversy over Sale of Church to Muslims

Source: National Public Radio

On July 19, 2000, National Public Radio aired a story entitled “Chicago Suburb Wrestles with Racist Overtones of City Council.” The mayor of Palos Heights vetoed the $200,000 offer by the city council, calling it “an insult to Muslims and fiscally irresponsible for the city.” Yet the Al Salam Mosque Foundation unexpectedly accepted the city’s buyout. Speaking at a press conference, the foundation’s attorney, Rouhy Shalabi, said “deciding to accept the money and walk away was a tough decision, but his clients did not want to be in a place where they were unwanted.” Shalabi thinks that it is impossible for the mosque to be comfortable in Palos Heights after the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment expressed both by the city and by their possible neighbors. In fact, he says, “the mosque foundation has received written threats telling them to go away or else.” Not everyone in the Palos Heights Muslim community supported the cash offer. Omar Najeeb, president of the Arab Antidiscrimination League, said, “Shame on you. You should never accept that offer. You have to hold your dignity, and you have to tell the people here that either you let us in–we have a contract, we have to be here–or walk out with dignity, with honor. We are not for sale.”


Palos Heights, Chicago: Controversy over Sale of Church to Muslims

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

On May 24, 2000, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that “Plans to open a mosque in Palos Heights have upset residents and prompted some City Council members to consider derailing the plan by condemning the property the mosque wants to purchase.” The Al Salam Mosque Foundation wanted to buy “the Reformed Church of Palos Heights’ building.” Residents say they fear increased traffic and would like to use the building for a new recreation center. “But a less vocal group in the south suburb also has expressed fears about the people of Middle Eastern descent a mosque would draw. ‘I’m not going to lie to you — we don’t want them,’ said one resident living near the property.” Mayor Dean Koldenhoven “said he has been surprised at some of the racially tinged comments he’s heard from people opposed to the mosque moving into the building. ‘It hurts me,’ he said. ‘Here we are, coming up on Memorial Day. People fought and died for these freedoms; we talk about these freedoms. But then some people decide they’re not freedoms for everyone.’ “