NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Associated Press – May 29, 2012) — A judge’s ruling has stopped construction of a Nashville suburban mosque that has been at the center of a rowdy debate for more than two years.
Chancellor Robert Corlew ruled Tuesday that proper public notice was not given for the May 2010 meeting that approved the site plan for the mosque being built near Murfreesboro, a booming city of about 100,000 people southeast of Nashville.
Corlew notes that his opinion doesn’t prevent the Rutherford County Planning Commission from reconsidering the issue and approving the mosque site plan again. The next commission meeting is scheduled for June 11.
Essam Fathy, head of the construction committee for the Islamic Center, said that there is about six weeks of work left on the building. He’s gotten no official word from the county yet on what the ruling means.
“This has all come as a big surprise,” he said.
Saleh Sbenaty, a spokesman for the leadership of the mosque, said the ruling was disappointing but his group remains committed to building the Islamic center. They have been worshiping for many years at a smaller site in the community.
The mosque was one of several Muslim projects in the U.S. that hit a swell of conservative opposition around the same time as the controversy over a plan to build a Muslim community center near New York’s Ground Zero.
The opponents of the Tennessee mosque have fought for two years to stop construction. During lengthy hearings in 2010, they presented testimony that effectively put Islam on trial. A string of witnesses questioned whether Islam is a legitimate religion and promoted a theory that American Muslims want to replace the Constitution with extremist Islamic law and the mosque was a part of that plot.
The judge dismissed those allegations but held a trial on the narrower claim that the public meeting law was violated because the meeting notice wasn’t adequate. The meeting notice was published in the Murfreesboro Post, a free weekly newspaper that claims distribution to 45,000 homes in the county of more than 250,000 people.
The Tennessean’s Bob Smietana contributed to this report.
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