Federal authorities are suing a Northern Virginia county over zoning regulations that prohibit an Islamic organization from developing a religious cemetery on land it had purchased for that purpose.
The lawsuit alleges that Stafford County violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by enacting overly restrictive regulations blocking the proposed cemetery, the Justice Department said Friday.
The complaint alleges that an amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance in 2016 blocked the All Muslim Association of America from developing an Islamic cemetery on a 29-acre parcel of land.
Authorities said that after learning of the association’s plans, the county amended the ordinance to require that cemeteries be no closer than 900 feet from private wells and certain types of streams.
The ordinance was adopted after neighbors raised concerns about well contamination.
The lawsuit alleges that the ordinance is far more restrictive than the Virginia Department of Health’s 100-foot distancing standard.
Federal authorities also said the ordinance has no legitimate health justification, imposes a substantial burden on the association’s religious exercise, and is not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling governmental interest.
“Honoring and burying the dead is a sacred religious act for many faith traditions,” G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement. “The complaint that was filed in this case demonstrates this office’s commitment to ensuring that those of all faiths are not substantially burdened by improper local government actions in practicing their religious rituals.”