WEST BLOOMFIELD — Hundreds packed the West Bloomfield Township Hall for a joint meeting Tuesday held by the city's planning commission and wetland review board to hear whether the Islamic Cultural Association's (ICA) request to construct a storm water managment system with a direct discharge to the Franklin Branch of the Rouge River, as part of its rennovation of Eagle Elementary School would be approved.
|Randy Block, director of the MI-UUSJN.|
PHOTOS: Natasha Dado/TAAN
"If the school wasn't being turned into a Islamic center we know there wouldn't be this many people here complaining about it," said Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network Director Randy Block who was one of the peacful protesters who came to support the Muslim community at the meeting.
Block held up a sign that read: "Muslims Are PEOPLE, Stand on the Side of Love! We stand on the Side of Love, WILL YOU?" Other peaceful protesters held up a large sign that read: Standing on The Side of Love. Meanwhile one woman in the audience passed a note around that read,"Do not engage the pro-Muslim protesters outside the hallway . Do not provoke."
Block says he and other demonstrators were simply trying to make a statement that all people, Muslims, Christians and Jews deserve to have their own religious freedom. While people from different groups came to support the ICA such as the Jewish Voice for Peace, an overwhelming majority of the crowd was against the project.
The planning commission and wetland board didn't reach a decision, instead on Sep. 9 there will be a site visit at noon open to the public where the applicants will take questions from the wetland board regarding the construction of a storm water management system.
The meeting was so crowded guests sat stood outside the meeting room, some sat on the floor while others watched from a television screen in a separate room. The ICA is currently housed in the same building as the Huda School in Franklin. Last year a representative of the ICA told The Arab American News the current facility wasn't large enough to accomodate the needs of the organization, and a seperate building was needed where meetings could be held in addition to holiday gatherings. The ICA and Huda School has been open for years with no problems.
Many believe the whole situation is part of the ongoing historic movement in the country occuring where Muslims are being prevented from building their own houses of worship, and centers because of the anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.
Similar incidents have taken place locally in Pittsfield Township; and also in New York and Tennessee regarding the prevention of establishing Islamic places of worship. Vandalism at Muslim religious centers is also on the rise.
|People from various groups demonstrated peacefully |
at the meeting. While it was packed with hundreds, an overwhelming majority of the crowd was in opposition
to the ICA’s plans.
The meeting was a legal briefing discussing the legitimacy of a lawsuit filed by two residents who oppose the sale.
The Oakland County Circuit Court refused to hear the lawsuit, claiming it had no standing. It's pending in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Thomas More Law Center sent a request to Michigan Attotney General Bill Schuette asking for his office to investigate the school.
The request filed with the Attorney General's office claims two board members of the Farmington Public School District accepted bribes before the sale of the school was authorized.
There are also allegations that board members accpeted financial contributions for their re-election campaigns from people who're connected to the ICA.
There are reports that fincancial contributions were given only days leading up to a vote to extend the closing date of the sale, although video from an Oct. 18 board meeting indicates that no such vote took place. FPS board members say the allegations have no merit.
Another argument against the school was that other potential buyers intrested in the property were turned away including a church pastor. Although he had the opportunity to place his name on a potential list of buyers and declined not to.
But the Farmington Public School District alleges the the building was not for sale and set for demoltion. According to reports days before the school district sought bids for demolition it was approached by the ICA was an offer of $850,000 from a broker representing the ICA.
Last year a representative from the Farmington School Board said no other offers were made and the district wasn't approached by other potential buyers.
Others were interested but never made offers according to an attorney. There are also claims the public didn't know about the sale of the school until a article on it appeared in a local paper. FPS said it discussed plans for the sale of the school at a public meeting.
Attorneys from the Thomas More Law Center also say the baord violated the Open Meetings Act by discussing details about the sale behind closed doors. The superintendent of FPS denies such claims.