Moxley v. Town of Walkersville, Md.
06/03/2009: Federal court denies the majority of the Town of Walkersville's Motion to Dismiss; Town officials, private organization and individuals remain defendants in discrimination case
The Government Defendants have not met their burden of establishing that they are entitled to immunity for the alleged constitutional violations. They have not argued with any particularity that the alleged constitutional or statutory violations were not clearly established at the time they occurred, or that an objectively reasonable person would not have known that his actions violated that person's clearly established rights...
Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint pleads ample facts to support their contention that the Private Defendants joined with the Government Defendants to block the sale of the Moxley Farm to the AMC.
S&G's Press Release is available here.
A copy of the court's opinion can be found here.
"Discrimination Suit Can Advance,” Henri E. Cauvin, Washington Post (March 7, 2009).
”Judge moves Moxley v. Walkersville case ahead,” Ron Cassie, Frederick News Post (March 7, 2009).
03/12/2009: “Religious land use discrimination case moves forward” in Walkersville, Md. dispute
Citizens for Walkersville is a grassroots group that organized opposition to the Muslim group's plans, and dominated public testimony during appeals board hearings in January and February 2008. It was led by Ed Marino of Walkersville, who served as president, and Steven R. Berryman of Frederick, who served as spokesman. The attorney for Citizens of Walkersville, Robert R. McGill, motioned for a universal dismissal of the case. Bennett denied the motion.
Article text here, Business Gazette.
02/27/2009: Storzer argues in lawsuit involving Walkersville's denial of the special exception to build a mosque on a 200+ acre property
A key early motion presented by the defense to Judge Richard D. Bennett seeks to remove the Walkersville burgess, town commissions andmembers of the board of appeals from the suit as individuals -- apart from their official roles.
Storzer remained encouraged after the first day both parties were in court. Asked if he thought Bennett would rule in favor of allowing the burgess, commissioners, and appeals board members to remain defendants as individuals, Storzer commented, "We're very hopeful."
Religious bias suit begins in U.S. District Court, Ron Cassie, Frederick News Post (March 2, 2009).
08/28/2008: Walkersville Commissioner proposes to amend ordinance to permit school on agricultural land; AMC mosque still prohibited
Town Commissioner Chad Weddle said Wednesday he could see how some might view his recent proposal to amend a planning ordinance as discriminatory, but his intentions are only to better the community. . . .
Roman P. Storzer, an attorney for Moxley, said he applauds local governments that accommodate schools and other social institutions, though he wishes the same benefits would have been offered to the Muslim group.
Proposal would allow Banner School in Walkersville -- Change would still block Muslim community, Sarah Fortney, Frederick News Post.
06/10/2008: A Muslim group was unanimously denied the ability to use 224 acres of farmland intended as a mosque and for their annual Jalsa Salana event; various remedies are available to landowner David Moxley
It is a "sad, sad situation," when Ahmadiyya members are not allowed to worship freely in America; many moved from their native countries to escape the same persecution for their beliefs. Moxley could also take the case to federal court to deal with potential civil rights violations, Storzer said. That option would seek enforcement of the religious freedom protections in the federal and Maryland constitutions and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
It's official: Walkersville formally denies Muslim group, Sarah Fortney, Frederick News Post (June 6, 2008).
Landowner in Ahmadiyya decision considers appeal, Sarah Fortney, Frederick News Post (June 7, 2008).
Walkersville Officially Denies Muslim Farm Purchase; Attorneys May Appeal, Megan Healey, NBC25 (June 5, 2008).
05/29/2008: The Gazette reports on the Walkersville, Md. controversy
\Walkersville’s written decision prohibiting a small group of Muslims from building a mosque in suburban Maryland is expected soon. Decision on Muslim retreat center due June 5, Jeremy Hauck, Gazette (May 29, 2008).
02/24/2008: Response to Walkersville Editorial
Your Feb. 13 editorial ("Let it be") recommends that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and David Moxley give up in their attempt to use the 224-acre parcel in Walkersville as a mosque for a few dozen families and their annual Jalsa Salana event. . . . Are our fundamental freedoms so cheap that they can be set aside because it may take a few minutes longer to get home from work once a year? . . . Who actually believes that the introduction of an amendment banning places ofworship from the agricultural zone two days after the AMC's presentation was mere coincidence? The Constitution and civil rights laws protect the AMC and all of us against actions like these, just as they protect all of us from denials of other fundamental rights. Should it have been said that African-Americans being denied the vote "let it be?" Or that women denied job opportunities should "let it be?" Or that disabled individuals denied access to government buildings should "let it be?"
Column, Roman Storzer, Frederick News Post (Feb. 24, 2008).
02/18/2008: The Daily Record reports on religious institutions and zoning laws
Roman P. Storzer, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who represents religious groups in RLUIPA litigation, said he believes Maryland has seen few cases because it is a relatively densely populated state. City-dwellers tend to be used to diversity and more tolerant of minority religions, he said.
“I think that exhibits a general tolerance toward religious institutions in this state, and in most cases towns and counties realize the importance of religion and religious institutions in public life and treat them with respect,” said Storzer, of Storzer & Greene PLLC. “There are, of course, exceptions. … In those cases, it’s good that there are constitutional and statutory protections that prevent discrimination and burdensome restriction
“The other interesting thing is that in the great majority of these cases, my clients are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, exactly the kind of minority that have been targeted in the past and the reason Congress passed this legislation,” he said. “That’s indicative of the fact that there truly is discrimination going on.”
Religious institutions claim federal law trumps local zoning and land-use codes, Caryn Tamber, The Daily Record.
02/13/2008: Local paper editorializes on AMC project
We have suggested earlier that there may well be some anti-Muslim sentiment in Walkersville. That would not make Walkersville any different than many, if not most, other places…
Storzer says a challenge to the decision could be made on federal and state constitutional issues or via the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Perhaps, but even if the AMC were able to successfully challenge the zoning board ruling, we believe, after all that has transpired, that it would be a flawed decision for them to move forward with their plans for this religious center.
Let it be, Frederick News Post
02/08/2008: The Washington Post reports on the AMC conflict
"This conflict has been defined from day one by a desire to keep a Muslim group out of the area," attorney Roman Storzer said in a statement.
It is unconstitutional to make land-use decisions on religious or racial grounds, so the town could deny the sect's proposal only if it identified legitimate concerns about traffic, infrastructure or planning.
Frederick Town Board Rejects Mosque Plan, Philip Rucker.
Landowner's attorney considering legal options, Gina Gallucci, Frederick News Post.
Town votes to ban Muslim development, David Dishneau, Washington Times.
Lawyer Calls Maryland Town's Decision to Bar Muslim Group From Gatherings 'Discriminatory', Fox News.
02/07/2008: S&G informs Town of Walkersville of implications of religious freedom law if it excludes Muslim congregation
David W. Moxley, owner of the Nicodemus Farm, has retained the services of Storzer and Greene, a New York and Washington, D.C. firm that specializes in the statute, known as RLUIPA. Storzer outlined the statute for the board on Jan. 15, and the appeals board on Jan. 16 asked for an
in-depth workshop from O'Connor.
One aspect of the statute that Storzer spelled out, called the "equal terms" provision, states that governments cannot treat non-religious gatherings
more favorably than religious gatherings. "The entire focus of this hearing has been on the one weekend a year event," Storzer said. "And we all know the town has other large events that are hosted here annually."
Executive session expected on center, Jeremy Hauck, The Gazette (Jan. 24, 2008).
The valiant efforts of those who want to keep the Muslims out may not count for much in the end. Moxley attorney Roman Storzer cited case after case to support his arguments, including Marks v City of Chesapeake, where a court held that a local government "may not adopt the discriminatory biases of their residential population."
Which is, in part, why residents carefully sidestepped the talk of Muslims, talk that figured prominently in earlier discussions.
Since opponents organized into the for-profit Citizens of Walkersville and procured the talents of a local disability rights lawyer, they've toned down the rhetoric, but too little too late. Their choice of spokesperson doesn't bode well for their image, either. Spotlight-loving Steve Berryman, a Dearbought resident with children in Walkersville schools, is not shy about taking credit for the bloviated anti-Muslim creeds, and photos of his home-security gun collection that he publishes on the web...
Walkersville's not so different from other small towns feeling invaded by immigrants and overdevelopment. When fear of the unknown is added to the mix, especially one that walks and talks like our country's sworn enemy, some opposition is inevitable.
But that doesn't make it right.
The 'M-word', Katherine Heerbrandt, Frederick News Post (Jan. 23, 2008).
02/07/2008: Walkersville Board of Appeals rejects Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's application
On February 7, 2008, the Walkersville Board of Appeals rejected the application of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community ("AMC") to use a 224-acreparcel of land as a place of worship In agriculturally zoned land that permits such uses by special exception. The Board's deliberations suggested that it was adopting a position that locating on Route 194 was inappropriate for the mosque, even though the State Highway Administration did not list any objections to the plan.
"The Board's decision is both irrational and discriminatory," said attorney Roman Storzer. "Irrational because the suggestion that locating on a smaller country road is better than a major arterial makes no sense from a land use perspective. Discriminatory because this conflict has been defined from day one by a desire to keep a Muslim group out of the area."
Press Release (Feb. 7, 2008); Walkersville Board Votes Down Muslim Recreation Center, NBC (Feb. 7, 2008)
01/17/2008: Organized opposition to Walkersville Mosque continues
The Citizens for Walkersville testimony continued. Jeff Schouw presented a slide show and video showing Jalsa Salana participants in other countries. Roman P. Storzer, an attorney representing Moxley, asked Schouw why he played the video, which contained flags, a march and voices screaming in a foreign language. Schouw said it demonstrated what could occur in Walkersville if the special exception is granted.
Dozens testify, most cite reasons Muslim retreat center should be denied by Jeremy Hauck, Jeremy Hauck, Business Gazette (Jan. 17, 2008)
WALKERSVILLE -- When Roman Storzer broached the subject of religious intolerance at a Board of Zoning Appeals hearing Friday, he was quickly silenced...
Board steers clear of religious questions, Gina Gallucci, Frederick News-Post (Jan. 12, 2008).
01/03/2008: Retreat center’s application to be heard starting January 8
Moxley’s lawyer, Roman P. Storzer, of Washington, D.C.-based Storzer and Greene, is ready to take the town to court if either the Zoning Board of Appeals or the Board of Commissioners denies the Muslims the right to build a retreat center on the farmland, he said.
‘‘If the action is taken to prevent this group from locating there, and litigation ensues, then the town’s administration is going to have to face a jury of its peers and be able to answer for their actions,” Storzer said in a telephone interview.
Read more here.
11/02/2007: FOXNEWS: Maryland Politician Fights Group’s Plans to Build Mosque on Farmland
Mayor Ralph Whitmore said, some residents are "apprehensive of Muslims." Tensions are still there. We have a lot of people here who haven't forgotten 9/11."
Whitmore says people who have loved ones fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have reservations about Muslims in the community, and fear remains after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "We're not a very diverse community," the mayor said.
Roman Storzer, a Washington lawyer who represents David Moxley, the owner of the farmland, calls the issue hostile. Moxley is seeking to sell the farmland to the group. "Tender or not, this is one of the most blatant examples of hostility to a particular religious group that I have ever seen," Storzer said.
FOXNEWS: Maryland Politician Fights Group’s Plans to Build Mosque on Farmland (Nov. 2, 2007):
10/23/2007: Meeting of Town officials with "citizens group" opposed to Muslim worship center prompts request from landowner; Storzer & Greene prepared to seek redress of any legal violations resulting from Town's actions
This is one of the most blatant examples of hostility to a Particular religious group that I have ever seen," said Roman P. Storzer, attorney for Mr. Moxley. "This is exactly why Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Zoning permits should not be denied and> ordinances should not be passed to keep a particular religious group out, just because they may 'change the culture' or are perceived as different or unfamiliar to the community.
Media Release (October 23, 2007):
Read about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's plight in the International Herald Tribune and the Washington Post.