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 Becket Law. Becket 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 Becket. “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 Becket’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 Becket 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.
In addition to The Becket Fund, the Islamic Center is represented by George Barrett of the Nashville law firm Barrett Johnston, LLC.
*UPDATE: July 19, 2012, 12:41pm EST
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has released the following statement:
We learned this morning that there are several more steps that need to be completed to obtain our final certificate of occupancy, and that these steps will take perhaps 10 days to complete. The mosque is committed to complying with the building code just like any other building, and we will be moving quickly to bring that process to completion. We are happy that because of yesterday’s ruling this building inspection process, which is normal for all buildings, is now able to go forward to completion. It is unfortunate that we cannot be in our building for the start of Ramadan tonight. However, it does look like we will get to enjoy most of Ramadan in our building, especially the breaking of the fast at the end of Ramadan, on Eid-ul-Fitr. The children are very excited to get to use our new building to celebrate Ramadan.
We also want to say thank you to all of the well-wishers from around Tennessee and the entire nation. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. We also want to thank our attorneys at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Mr. George Barrett, as well as the U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin and the Department of Justice, for helping us obtain our rights.
Becket Law is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions—from Anglicans to Zoroastrians. For 18 years its attorneys are recognized as experts in the field of church-state law, and they recently won a 9-0 victory in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.
For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Melinda Skea at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202.349.7224.