A victory for people of all faiths (h/t:aliyaplatif):
By Heidi Hall and Bob Smietana
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge on Wednesday overturned a recent Rutherford County, Tenn., order that prevented Muslims from occupying the controversial mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., letting local Muslims use the place of worship in time for Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell gives the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro the right to complete its inspection process, thus reversing Rutherford County’s June injunction, which contended that county officials did not adequately notify the public about the mosque’s construction.
After the ruling, the mosque’s imam, Ossama Bahloul, said: “We are here to celebrate the freedom of religion and that the concept of liberty is a fact existing in this nation.”
The congregation of 250 families and 1,000 people would like to hold its main worship service Friday on the first day of Ramadan. The congregation now waits for the Rutherford County Codes Department to complete inspections before issuing a certificate of occupancy at the new mosque.
Attorney Luke Goodrich with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the mosque in the suit, called the ruling a victory for people of all faiths.
But opponents objected to what they called a lack of notice about Wednesday’s court actions.
Attorney Joe Brandon, who is representing a group of Rutherford County residents opposed to mosque construction but not involved in Wednesday’s suit, said he’s not surprised that the U.S. attorney got involved.
“You don’t throw a lawsuit like this together overnight,” he said. “So, clearly, it’s something they’ve been planning for some time.”
Brandon said Rutherford County residents were “circumvented.”
“We’ve been involved in this thing from day one, but I’m sure they’d rather have it with no opposition,” Brandon said.
Since mosque construction began in 2010, the building has been at the center of a dispute over whether the public was adequately notified about the site’s construction. However, opponents made clear in court hearings that they also opposed the practice of Islam.
Wednesday’s decision affirms that indeed proper public notice was granted, contrary to the chancery court decision, which submitted that the mosque should be subjected to “heightened legal standard” because of the “tremendous public interest” surrounding the mosque.
Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was suing Rutherford County, claiming violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.
“Our nation was founded on bedrock principles of religious liberty. The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously enforce civil rights laws that protect religious freedom,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in a media release. “When a faith community follows the rules, as the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has done in seeking to construct its place of worship, it is impermissible to change the rules in a discriminatory way that prevents people of faith from exercising their fundamental right to worship.”
The act cited in the government’s suit prohibits religious discrimination in land use and zoning decisions.
Contributing: Scott Broden, The (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) Daily News Journal