By Tim Townsend ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
A FAMILIAR STORY IN THE 1950s • Temple Israel bought land in Creve Coeur. The city amended its zoning to block the temple’s efforts to build. The case went to the Missouri Supreme Court, and Temple Israel prevailed. NOW • In Lemay, the Islamic Community Center bought 4.7 acres for a mosque, but the County Council rejected a rezoning request to accommodate it.
When Rick Isserman found out last month that St. Louis County wouldn’t allow a group of Muslims to build a new mosque in south St. Louis County, the story sounded too familiar.
Forty-eight years earlier, Isserman’s grandfather, Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman, fought to move his congregation, Temple Israel, from the city to the county, where the Jewish population had been relocating for some years. The city of Creve Coeur cited zoning problems and tried to block the move, but the rabbi and his flock took the case to the Missouri Supreme Court and prevailed.
The case, Congregation Temple Israel v. City of Creve Coeur, produced what is considered a landmark religious-freedom decision that says Missouri municipalities can invoke only health or safety issues in denying a religious group the zoning required to build houses of worship.
In the spring, the St. Louis County Council refused the Islamic Community Center’s request to rezone a 4.7-acre parcel it bought a year before for $1.25 million. The Muslims – mostly Bosnian immigrants – planned to build a second mosque and community center in addition to the current mosque and center off South Kingshighway in St. Louis.
When Khalid Shah, a member of the mosque and a friend of Isserman’s, told him about the council’s decision, the 53-year-old Department of Agriculture employee began making the connection to his family’s legal legacy. [...]
Shah and Isserman spoke in June about the case at a monthly study group they started, in which about a dozen area Muslims and a dozen members of Temple Israel read and discuss the Quran and the Torah. Isserman enlisted Shook’s help, as well as congregation president David Weinstein’s, and the three men began mobilizing support for the Bosnian Islamic Community Center.
Hasic said he was moved when he heard that Temple Israel was going to bat for the mosque.
“They kept asking what they could do to help,” he said. “They wrote letters, they met with the council, they said we needed to stick together.” [more]
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