“Religious liberty in America includes the rights of landowners to use their land for religious purposes, including burial in accordance with religious tradition,” said Chelsey Youman, Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “Politicians in Farmersville would have spent thousands of local taxpayer dollars defending their discriminatory actions in court only to lose. Thankfully, the City of Farmersville made the right choice, one that ultimately protects people of all faiths.”
“It has been an honor partnering with First Liberty on this important matter,” said Baker Botts associate Christopher Norfleet. “Baker Botts is proud of its pro-bono efforts to defend the right of religious freedom for all Americans,” added Baker Botts partner Tom O’Brien. “We are pleased IACC can move forward and build a cemetery for its community.”
IACC General Counsel Asad Rahman added, “I am pleased to see this process finally move forward. We want nothing more than to create a peaceful resting place for those who have passed from our community.” Rahman continued, “We are indebted to Baker Botts and First Liberty for their tireless efforts and expertise. True to their mission, they have been fighting for religious liberty for all Americans.”
The Farmersville Planning and Zoning Commission (“Commission”) twice recommended (May 2015 and June 2017) approval of the IACC preliminary plat application to build a cemetery. However, in July of 2017, the Farmersville City Council unanimously rejected the Commission’s recommendation that the plat be approved.
Having been advised by legal counsel that they could not reject the IACC plat for expressly religious reasons, the City Council instead cited drainage issues not previously identified—even though engineers for Farmersville and IACC both concluded that drainage would not be an issue.
Farmersville’s denial of the preliminary plat for vague and constantly changing reasons—reasons that conflicted with the testimony of the City’s own engineers—substantially burdened IACC’s sincerely held religious beliefs and religious exercise in violation of the United States Constitution, the RLUIPA, and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“TRFRA”).
First Liberty lead counsel Matthew Kacsmaryk and RLUIPA expert Chelsey Youman partnered with volunteer attorneys from Baker Botts to make it clear to Farmersville officials that the city’s obstruction violated state and federal laws, including the RLUIPA. On September 20, 2018, over three years after IACC filed the initial application for a preliminary plat, Farmersville officials voted to approve IACC’s application at their City Council meeting, enabling IACC to move forward with their plans to build a cemetery.
by Nanette Light, Staff Writer, Dallas Morning News
FARMERSVILLE — A plan to build a Muslim cemetery in this small Collin County city has been resurrected.
City Council members on Thursday unanimously approved a settlement agreement with the Islamic Association of Collin County that will allow it to obtain plats needed to build its graveyard proposal. The vote, which came after federal intervention, marked an about-face from city leaders’ decision last year to block the cemetery.
The settlement “enables us to move forward with the platting process without fear that there will continue to be religious liberty violations,” said Chelsey Youman, legal counsel at the First Liberty Institute, a Plano-based nonprofit conservative legal organization focused on religious-liberty cases.
The three-year fight over the cemetery began when the Islamic association bought land in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction in 2015.
Asad Rahman, the association’s general counsel, said Muslim cemeteries in Denton and Richardson are near capacity. That means some families have to choose graveyards farther from home to bury their family. And the demand is growing; Collin County’s Muslim population has boomed — quadrupling over 10 years to nearly 23,000 people in 2010, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives.
“We need a place to bury our loved ones,” Rahman said.
Plans for the Farmersville cemetery include a pavilion, restrooms and a maintenance building on the roughly 34 acres. The site will also include about 11,000 burial sites.