The City of Mountlake Terrace has granted an Islamic group permission to worship and gather in a downtown building, reversing an earlier decision to deny the permit.
The Mountlake Terrace Board of Adjustment voted 3-2 on Oct. 4 to grant a conditional use permit to the Islamic Education Center of Seattle (IECS) after hearing arguments from the ACLU, which represented the center. The group is now allowed to gather and worship in a single-family house in a downtown neighborhood that the city slated for commercial development.
“The Islamic Education Center deserves the same rights and opportunities to worship on its property as those enjoyed by other churches and religious centers in the area,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Aaron Caplan. “The city may not violate those rights on the basis of economic speculation.”
The IECS is a small nonprofit organization of Farsi-speaking Muslims living in greater Seattle. The group has informally used a house they own in Mountlake Terrace to worship and gather for cultural events. As the group grew, it decided to formalize the role of that house by applying for a permit from the city.
But on Aug. 16, the city’s Board of Adjustment denied that permit application, despite a recommendation for the project from the city’s Planning Commission. Mountlake Terrace is hoping to convert many residential properties in that neighborhood into businesses, to raise more taxes. Members of the Board argued that giving the group permission to use the house as a place of worship would lead to lower tax revenue and stifle economic growth.
The ACLU argued that federal law and the Washington Constitution require the city to have a compelling interest before restricting the rights of a person or institution to worship or to manage a religious property. The ACLU pointed out that the city’s hopes for commercial tax revenues were not strong enough to force a religious congregation out of the neighborhood.
The IECS was represented by ACLU cooperating attorney Rich Hill.