Orland Park Officials OK Mosque
Meeting filled with intense discussion of plan
Stanley Ziemba, Chicago Tribune, Jun. 22
After hours of heated and emotional debate in which opponents expressed fears that a proposed mosque would foster terrorism, the Orland Park Village Board voted unanimously Monday night to annex the mosque site and allow construction to begin.
Although speakers at the Orland Park Civic Center were about evenly divided between supporters and opponents, catcalls and boos reverberated around the room when a supporter said it was wrong to fear the Muslim house of worship.
Veronica Mattera, a village resident, reminded the more than 400 people in attendance that the meeting had started with the Pledge of Allegiance, which ends with the phrase “liberty and justice for all.”
“Under the Constitution, everyone has a right to a place of worship,” she said.
But several people, starting with Rev. Vernon C. Lyons, pastor of the Ashburn Baptist Church, said they feared the mosque would attract Islamic extremists and violence to their community.
“As a Christian, a Baptist and an American, I am a firm believer in religious freedom, but when any group jeopardizes our national security and liberty, they are not deserving of our tolerance,” Lyons said.
While some also reiterated concerns that the mosque would create traffic problems and cause property values to decline, most, like Lyons, expressed fears about extremists — a fear that has gripped communities with mosques since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Opponents urged Mayor Daniel McLaughlin and the board to take no action on the proposal until village residents express their views in a referendum question. In the end, however, McLaughlin and the six village trustees said they had no choice but to approve the mosque.
“We do this because we took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and because it is the right thing to do,” said Trustee Brad O’Halloran, speaking for his fellow board members.
Trustee James Dodge said: “We cannot in good conscience not allow people to serve God in their own way.
“If we said no to the mosque it would get built anyway,” Dodge said, noting that the mosque site, up until Monday, was just outside the village boundaries on a parcel in unincorporated Orland Township.
“It is better for us to annex the mosque and let it be built in conformance with our [building] codes,” Dodge said.
Village attorney Kenneth Friker also made clear that state and federal laws prohibit a community from rejecting a house of worship because of objections to its membership or beliefs. In fact, McLaughlin advised residents in a letter last week that the U.S. Justice Department had been monitoring the controversy to make sure no federal laws were breached.
Richard Skrodzki, an attorney for the mosque’s organizers, reminded opponents that those who would worship at the mosque are their neighbors.
“They live here in the community,” Skrodzki said. “They shop here and their children go to your schools.”
Simmar Ali, a Muslim who has lived in Orland Park for five years, said: “I can’t believe some of the things I’m hearing today. It’s an attempt to smear the whole mosque community with terrorism.”
The 22,700-square-foot, gold-domed mosque — proposed by Orland Park businessman Malik Ali, Orland Park cardiologist Ali Kutom and Palos Heights pediatrician Mohamed Krad — is to be built on 4.3 acres owned by Krad at 16530 S. 104th Ave.
The three said the mosque, the first non-Christian house of worship among the village’s 25, would accommodate about 500 worshipers. Throughout the debate, they’ve said worshipers will be mainstream members of the community, who, like most Muslims, practice a moderate form of Islam. There would be daily services, with about 120 people expected to attend on Friday afternoons, the most popular service for Muslims.