When Muslim congregants throughout the metro area found their worship facilities overcrowded, forcing some to pray in stairwells and hallways, they decided to build the Abu Haraira Islamic Center in St. Anthony. But their request for a permit was denied, and that’s when Bahram Samie and others in the United States Attorney’s Office saw some red flags.
An investigation revealed that the city treated the permit application differently than those of similarly situated applicants. Samie says, “Although it is never easy to file a lawsuit against a local municipality, we felt that the injustice could not stand.”
As lead attorney for the United States, Samie spent over a year interviewing and researching in an effort to address each party’s concerns without extensive litigation. He notes that the case is meaningful to the state because it’s a reminder that minority faith groups are most at risk of having religious rights deprived. “Minnesota certainly has a rich tradition of embracing its changing demographics, but these types of incidents are likely to occur any time different cultures or communities begin to converge,” he says.
The case reached a beneficial conclusion, he adds, when St. Anthony agreed to change its refusal and move forward toward what Samie hopes is a long and fruitful relationship with the Islamic Center. As part of the settlement, the city promised it would not treat any religious groups in a discriminatory manner through the application of its zoning laws in the future.
In terms of being personally meaningful, the case stood out to Samie because it was a true team effort, and highlighted what he loves most about his job — working alongside colleagues at the United States Attorney’s Office. He says, “I have never met a group of people as bright, talented and dedicated to justice as these folks. They motivate me to try and meet their standard of excellence. Hopefully someday I can get there.”
Beyond the recent and high-profile case, Samie brings considerable insight to other roles as well. He’s the lead adjunct professor for the office’s civil right enforcement clinic with the University of Minnesota Law School, and he’s also the office’s civil rights coordinator.
In all of the civil rights work that he does, Samie draws on the significant influence of his parents, who taught him that everyone deserves a fair chance in life. Although the country’s civil rights laws dictate that same principle, he believes that equal opportunity can’t become a reality unless people are willing to work to defend and uphold those laws.
“When the U.S. pursues these cases, it sends a message to the community that protecting our civil rights is a priority, that this is meaningful work and that there is a lot to do,” he says. “I consider myself lucky to be part of that message.”