Chisago County board reconsiders, now supports Muslim cemetery

Request to allow Islamic cemetery in Chisago County approved
A request to allow an Islamic cemetery on parcel of property in rural Chisago County was unanimously approved by the county commissioners Wednesday after the same commission denied the same request in December.
Peter Cox | MPR News

After pressure from the U.S. Justice Department, the siting of a Muslim cemetery may go forward in rural Chisago County. The county commissioners voted in December to deny the project.

A Bosnian Muslim organization asked for the permit to use land for a cemetery just south of Lindstrom. The commission originally declined to issue the permit by a vote of 3-2. On March 1, the Justice Department told the board it was investigating.

Attorney Paul Reuvers recommended a new vote to approve the permit, and warned commissioners that another vote against the cemetery could prove expensive for taxpayers, not only stemming from federal scrutiny, but also a possible lawsuit from the applicant.

The board voted unanimously, with one commissioner absent. Lora Walker was seriously injured in a head-on crash Saturday that killed the other driver.

Commissioner George McMahon voted against the cemetery in December. But at Wednesday's special meeting, he made a different motion, to approve the application.

County Administrator Bruce Messelt said the cemetery was supported by county staff and the planning commission. Three commissioners who voted against the cemetery last year said at the time it came down to zoning.

Request to allow Islamic cemetery in Chisago County approved
After the initial request to allow for an Islamic cemetery in Chisago County was denied, the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation for religious discrimination.
Peter Cox | MPR News

"Some of the county commissioners felt that it wasn't a good fit for the neighborhood and there was also some concerns about traffic. And what they called the general unsightliness of potentially what cemeteries can look like if they're not maintained," Messelt said.

Commissioner Mike Robinson said some commenters "seemed like they were going more against religion than right and wrong. There was a lot of meanness that came out on Facebook. And it was just a frustrating deal."

Robinson voted to allow the cemetery back in December and Wednesday.

"I felt that was the right vote at the time and I felt the same right now," Robinson said. "It was the right thing to do."

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations-Minnesota, said challenges made through zoning can violate the law.

"We are very happy to see a positive resolution and we thank the leadership of the commissioners here and the community," Hussein said. "And I think we all look forward to moving on and building a deeper relationship between the Bosnian community, the Muslim community."

An attorney for the man who wants to build the private cemetery declined to comment Wednesday.