When Rick Isserman found out last month that St. Louis County wouldn’t allow a group of Muslims to build a new mosque in south St. Louis County, the story sounded too familiar.
Forty-eight years earlier, Isserman’s grandfather, Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman, fought to move his congregation, Temple Israel, from the city to the county, where the Jewish population had been relocating for some years. The city of Creve Coeur cited zoning problems and tried to block the move, but the rabbi and his flock took the case to the Missouri Supreme Court and prevailed.
The case, Congregation Temple Israel v. City of Creve Coeur, produced what is considered a landmark religious-freedom decision that says Missouri municipalities can invoke only health or safety issues in denying a religious group the zoning required to build houses of worship.
In the spring, the St. Louis County Council refused the Islamic Community Center’s request to rezone a 4.7-acre parcel it bought a year before for $1.25 million. The Muslims – mostly Bosnian immigrants – planned to build a second mosque and community center in addition to the current mosque and center off South Kingshighway in St. Louis.
When Khalid Shah, a member of the mosque and a friend of Isserman’s, told him about the council’s decision, the 53-year-old Department of Agriculture employee began making the connection to his family’s legal legacy. “I’m fighting the same battle as my grandfather 50 years ago,” Isserman said. “It’s a different community and a different place, but it’s the same issue.”