Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus defend New Jersey mosque Muslim congregation seeks right to assemble amidst local opposition
Melinda Skea 202-349-7224 email@example.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nearly 20 diverse civil rights and religious groups today asked a court to support a community of Muslims in New Jersey who have been trying to build a house of worship for almost a decade (view full coalition list). The mosque met every requirement by the local zoning board and was designed to look like a house to blend in with the surrounding neighborhood. But due to local hostility toward Muslims, the permit was denied.
“I came to America almost fifty years ago with a firm belief in the values that America represents, including freedom of religion and equality before the law,” said Mohammad Ali Chaudry, the founding and current president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge. “This mosque is part of my American dream. We are overwhelmed by this extraordinary support from so many diverse groups all supporting our position and affirming that Muslims too have the right to worship in Bernards Township.”
Dr. Chaudry is a Pakistani immigrant who has lived with his family in Basking Ridge for nearly 40 years. He has a Ph.D. in economics from Tufts University and is a retired AT&T executive. He has a long history of community engagement, including serving on the town’s board of education and as mayor from 2004 to 2007.
In 2008, Dr. Chaudry began looking for property to build a larger space to hold the Society’s prayer meetings and Sunday school for children. A few years later, Chaudry purchased a 4-acre site zoned for houses of worship and began planning construction. The small, unassuming mosque was designed to fit in with the residential neighborhood, without a traditional dome and with discrete minarets that looked like chimneys. But after the Society filed its application for a permit, what ensued was four years of local bureaucratic quagmire. The Board held a record 39 public hearings during which time the Society faced hostility and vandalism from members of the local community.
“It is a gross misuse of power by the local Planning Board to deny this house of worship simply because it is a mosque,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel of Becket, which filed an amicus brief in support of the Islamic Society. “The town cannot arbitrarily apply different standards to any religious group, be they Jews, Native Americans, Catholics or Muslims, merely because local protesters disapprove of religious beliefs that are new or different.”
In March 2016, the Society sued the town for violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Becket’s amicus brief was joined by a diverse coalition including the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Center for Islam and Religious Freedom, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Muslim Bar Association of New York, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Association of Evangelicals, New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association, Queens Federation of Churches, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sikh Coalition, South Asian Bar Association of New Jersey, South Asian Bar Association of New York, and Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey.
Becket was joined by Christopher J. Paolella of the New York law firm Reich & Paolella and Asma Uddin of the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom. The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and Mr. Chaudry are represented by Adeel A. Mangi of the New York law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP.
For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more).