NEW JERSEY – After four years of litigation, two American federal lawsuits have been finalized yesterday obligating New Jersey’s Bernards Township to pay US$3.25m to an Islamic society and allow Muslim to construct their first mosque after the town’s refusal to permit their building.
“We are very pleased by this resolution and hope to receive prompt approval to build our mosque,” Dr. Mohammed Ali Chaudry, the named plaintiff in the lawsuit and president of the Islamic society, told CNN on Wednesday, May 31.
“We look forward to welcoming people of all faiths and backgrounds to our mosque. Our doors will be open to anyone interested in building bridges to promote harmony in the community and peace in the world.”
Tuesday’s judgement followed four years of dispute between the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge Bernards Township, which had denied zoning approval for the Islamic society to build a mosque.
The mosque, planned to be the first and only mosque in the town, was rejected though similar approvals were granted to other houses of worship.
“Federal law requires towns to treat religious land use applications like any other land use application,” acting US Attorney for New Jersey William E. Fitzpatrick said in a statement.
“Bernards Township made decisions that treated the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge differently than other houses of worship. The settlement announced today corrects those decisions and ensures that members of this religious community have the same ability to practice their faith as all other religions.”
In March 2016, the Islamic society sued the town. The Department of Justice filed suit against Bernards Township in November.
The DOJ’s complaint alleged the township denied the application to build a mosque using standards it had not applied to other religious and nonreligious groups in the past.
The complaint also alleged that while the Islamic society’s application was pending, the township revised its zoning code so the Islamic society application couldn’t meet the requirements.
The complaints also detailed reports of intimidation and harassment in the community, noting that “fliers, social media and websites denounced the mosque and were filled with anti-Muslim bigotry and references to terrorism and the 9/11 attacks,” according to court documents.
The Islamic society first submitted its building application in 2012, according to court records. In December 2015, after 39 public hearings, more than for any previous site plan application, the DOJ said, the planning board voted to deny the application.
“Municipalities around the country should pay close attention to what happened in Bernards Township,” Adeel Mangi, the lawyer who represented the Islamic society, said in a statement.
“The American Muslim community has the legal resources, the allies, and the determination to stand up for its constitutional rights in court and will do so.”
Monday’s settlements resolve both lawsuits, according to court documents.