WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it is monitoring 11 cases of potential land-use discrimination against Muslims, a sharp increase in cases under a federal law designed to protect religious minorities in zoning disputes.
In a report on discrimination against mosques, synagogues, churches and other religious sites, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said it has monitored 18 cases of possible bias against Muslims over the past 10 years.
Eight of those have been opened since May, around the time when plans for a Muslim community center and mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan seized media attention and caused a national political uproar.
Religious leaders have responded to the controversy and a related threat to burn Korans in Florida by pressing President Barack Obama to be more public in his defence of religious freedom.
The report made no mention of the planned Muslim center in New York, known as Cordoba House. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to discuss monitoring activities but stressed that no investigations were under way in those cases.
“Nearly a decade after the attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, Muslim Americans continue to struggle for acceptance in many communities, and still face discrimination,” the civil rights report said.
“This fact is a sober reminder that, even in the 21st century, challenges to true religious liberty remain.”
The report’s release marked the 10th anniversary of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal bill signed into law in 2000 by President Bill Clinton.
The law gives the Justice Department enhanced powers to protect planned and existing religious sites including places of worship, religious schools, prayer groups in private homes and social services including homeless shelters, group homes and soup kitchens.
The Justice Department has launched 51 discrimination investigations under the law since 2000. The investigations involved seven Muslim, six Jewish, three Buddhist and 31 Christian sites.
The Justice Department has gone to court against discriminatory practices in seven cases, some of which have involved multimillion-dollar damage awards.
(Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Mohammad Zargham)