SIDNEY, N.Y. – A small town in rural upstate New York is dropping plans to take legal action forcing a Muslim community to shut down its tiny graveyard, according to a letter sent by the town attorney Wednesday.
Tom Schimmerling, lawyer for the 30-member Sufi community 130 miles northwest of New York City, said he received a letter from Sidney town attorney Joseph Ermeti saying the town had decided not to take action.
In the letter, which Schimmerling showed to The Associated Press, Ermeti said he had researched state and local laws regarding the two burials on the Muslim community's 50-acre farm. "This letter is to inform you that no action will be taken by the Town of Sidney in this matter," Ermeti wrote.
He stopped short of saying the graveyard was legal. Hans Hass, a spokesman for the Sufi Muslim community, said they want an apology and a statement that the cemetery is legal.
Hass has said anti-Islamic bigotry motivated a town board vote in August to try to shut down the cemetery. He said he has a zoning board document saying the cemetery is legal.
Town Supervisor Bob McCarthy didn't immediately return a call Wednesday. He has previously said that the graveyard was illegal and bigotry had nothing to do with it.
The issue brought critical national media coverage to Sidney, with MSNBC host Keith Olbermann giving McCarthy his nightly "Worst Person in the World" label.
Schimmerling said it was unfortunate that the whole town was subjected to negative publicity over the actions of their supervisor and town board.
"People around the country see Sidney as a hotbed of right-wing wackos, which it's certainly not," Schimmerling said.
"We've gotten tremendous support from the people of Sidney," Hass said. "We haven't heard anything bad from anyone. A lot of people are really upset with the town supervisor and they're going to be at the town meeting."
Hass said he also plans to attend the monthly board meeting Thursday evening. "I'll be asking them, 'Don't you feel a responsibility to apologize to us and to the people of Sidney, and by extension the people of America by making it seem like an attack on Muslims?'"