July 18, 2012 – WASHINGTON, DC – Today, in a major victory for religious liberty, Chief Judge Todd Campbell of the Nashville federal district court ruled that Rutherford County, Tennessee must allow the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to complete the inspection process so it can use its mosque building in time for the religious holiday of Ramadan. Judge Campbell issued a temporary restraining order at the request of the mosque’s lawyers at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Becket Fund Deputy General Counsel Luke Goodrich argued the mosque’s case in Nashville federal court, along with attorneys from the Department of Justice. The court’s decision opens the door for the mosque to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Ramadan in their mosque building; Ramadan begins at sundown on Thursday, July 19.
“The bottom line is: the full expression of religious liberty is the public interest here,” said Judge Campbell from the bench.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has been part of the Murfreesboro community for over thirty years. In 2010, the Islamic Center began building a new mosque to accommodate its growing congregation. Its efforts were unfortunately met with hostile protests from a small group of local residents who claimed that the congregation was threatening solely because of its Muslim religious beliefs. Among other things, these anti-mosque protestors made the absurd claim that Islam is not a religion and that the mosque therefore lacks protection under the First Amendment. Hostility toward the mosque culminated in acts of vandalism, arson, and even a bomb threat, which resulted in a federal indictment.
“This is a great victory not just for the Muslims of Murfreesboro, but for people of all faiths. No house of worship should be kept from meeting just because the neighbors don’t like their religious beliefs,” said Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel at the Becket Fund. “The First Amendment prevailed today, and we are all the better for it.”
In June of 2012, a local Chancery Court judge ruled that county approval of the mosque was subject to a heightened legal standard when compared with other houses of worship, due to the “tremendous public interest” surrounding the mosque. As the Becket Fund’s request points out, subjecting the mosque to a different legal standard than a Christian church violates the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution, as well as a federal civil rights statute, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
“The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro is delighted by the judge’s decision,” said Dr. Ossama Bahloul, the imam of the Islamic Center. “We are thankful that the Becket Fund was able to find justice for us in the federal courts. We look forward to celebrating Ramadan with our neighbors.”
In support of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, over 100 religious leaders from a wide variety of faith traditions have signed an open letter calling for equal treatment of the mosque. The U.S. Department of Justice has also filed a parallel federal lawsuit in support of the mosque.
Source: Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, July 18, 2012
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