Frontline Muslims

The Masjid in the American Landscape: Civic Rights

Overview: The purposes of this activity is to use a real life example involving a masjid (mosque) to get students thinking about religious tolerance, liberty, and zoning as well as community relations involving religious organizations and houses of worship.

Aim: Should government legislate locations of religious buildings?


Students should be able to:

· Examine and explain legal rights designed to protect religious liberty

· Evaluate the extent to which the First Amendment protects religious practices

· Research and describe current and past legal battles over religious zoning and buildings

· Discuss whether restrictions should be placed on where religious buildings are built


1. Motivation: Discuss the following questions with a partner:

    1. If a house of worship (church, mosque, synagogue, temple) were built in your neighborhood, what concerns, if any, would you or your community have? (Ask students to think about parking, crowding, noise pollution, and property values…)
    2. Ask for student responses. Then, in a whole class format, ask if students would feel differently if the house of worship in question was designed for a religion other than their own.

    3. Show a clip from Frontline: Muslims that discusses the Palos Heights Controversy (Chapter 10, 68:15-98:50). In lieu of the film or in addition to it, you can distribute "Muslim group sues Chicago suburb over failed mosque plan" (Associated Press 8/02/00). This article is available through the First Amendment Center:

    5. After watching the film and/or reading the article, briefly ask students to summarize the various perspectives of both parties -- those who want to open the mosque and those who oppose its opening. Explain that students will be researching the issue of religious zoning and buildings through resources available at the First Amendment Center, They will also be examining cases similar to the one they just learned about. After researching the topic, they will be required to choose a position, either for or against the building of the mosque and write a closing argument for the party they choose to represent in a fictitious court of law. See Student Handout.


Students should present their opening arguments to the class and be evaluated in terms of persuasiveness as well as evidence of research.

After student presentations, discuss the following questions as a whole class:

  1. The judge presiding over the case between the Palos Heights City Council and the Al Salam Mosque Foundation ordered both parties to participate in interfaith dialogue. What do you think he hoped would be accomplished? Do you think this order was effective? Why or why not?
  2. If you were trying to mediate between the Palos Heights City Council and the Al Salam Mosque Foundation, what specific conversations would you want the two parties to have? What understandings would you hope both parties would reach?
  3. Do you think there is any way to prevent a situation like the one above from happening again? Explain your response.
  4. In general, do you think your community would object to the presence of a religious building in your neighborhood? If yes, how would you respond?


Student Handout

Al Salam Mosque Foundation v. Palos Heights City Council

Congratulations! You’ve just graduated from a top-notch law school and have landed your first high-profile case. Your law firm has chosen you to deliver a closing argument representing one of the parties named in the above suit (you get to decide which side you’d like to defend).

Your closing argument must be constructed with your legal research team using resources available at the First Amendment Center website: It must briefly state the facts of the case and the position of your client. Then, by referencing past case law, you must convince the judge to rule in your client’s favor. In order to do this, you and your legal team must conduct some serious research.

To get started, type the words "Palos Heights" in the site’s search box located on the top right hand corner of the main page. This will take you to a general article about the Palos Heights controversy. At the bottom of the article, you will find several related links. Look through those links to see if you can find support for or against your position. Be sure to take notes as you research.

After looking though those links, go back to the main page and click on "religious liberty" found in the red box on the top left hand corner of the main page. Then click on "free exercise clause" in the gray box on the right column of the page. After reading that page, click on "religious buildings and zoning." After reading that page, explore the links on the left hand side, which include "FAQ’s" and "cases and resources."

After conducting research and deciding which side to represent, begin working on your closing argument and select one member of your legal team to deliver it to the class. Your argument should be approximately three minutes long. Be sure it is both emotionally convincing and supported by legal opinion. Good Luck!