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Sterling Heights mayor backpedals on mosque comments

Sep 2, 2015

Credit City of Sterling Heights / via Facebook

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor is clarifying comments he made online this week about a controversial mosque project that’s divided the city.

Taylor has said on Facebook and elsewhere that he opposes plans to build a mosque at a busy intersection in the Macomb County suburb.

That plan has sparked controversy, with some residents protesting and openly expressing anti-Muslim sentiments — many of them from Sterling Heights’ large Chaldean (Iraqi Christian) community.

But Taylor said his objection stems from the “specific location, and the specific plan” for the mosque project, which is being spearheaded by the American Islamic Community Center in nearby Madison Heights.

“There are some concerns being expressed by residents that are being animated by bigotry,” Taylor said. “And I completely reject those concerns.”

Taylor’s online comments, posted on the Facebook page for the group “Chaldean Nation,” read in part: “My heart breaks for the Chaldean people in Iraq and throughout the world who are being terrorized by Islamic terrorists. I will do EVERYTHING in my power to protect, support and defend the Chaldean population in Sterling Heights. I had nothing to do with this mosque and do not want it built here.”

The comments were criticized  by the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Michigan, a Muslim civil rights group.

“Mayor Taylor’s public opposition to the mosque not only calls into question his commitment to the civil rights of all residents of Sterling Heights but also his potentially wielding improper influence in upcoming proceedings relating to the mosque’s zoning,” said CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid in a written statement.

But Taylor said his comments were meant to address “the lies being spread about me” by political opponents. He said those smears include claims that he’s supporting the mosque construction in an effort to harass the Chaldean community.

In retrospect, Taylor said he understands why some may have seen his comments as anti-Muslim.

“I apologize for giving that impression, and I’m ashamed that I even have to say that,” Taylor said. “I have nothing but respect for every resident who practices their faith in the city of Sterling Heights, or anywhere in this country.”

Taylor said a final decision about the mosque project is in the hands of the Sterling Heights planning commission, which is set to vote on it next week.