Tennessee mosque sues in federal court for right to celebrate religious holiday Mosque seeks permission to gather, despite attacks by vandals and arsonists
Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Becket Law, on behalf of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, has filed a request for a temporary restraining order in federal district court in Nashville, requesting that the Islamic Center be permitted to use its newly built mosque in time for the religious holiday of Ramadan. Ramadan begins at sundown on Thursday, July 19, and a decision on the lawsuit is expected within a day.
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.
“No congregation should have its right of religious liberty curtailed solely because some of its neighbors disapprove of its religious beliefs,” said Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel at Becket. “No religion is an island. When the rights of one faith are abridged, the rights of all faiths are threatened. All faiths have the right to worship God in freedom and in peace.”
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 for a temporary restraining order 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 the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
“The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro looks forward to continuing to worship alongside our neighbors in peace, as we have done for over thirty years,” said Dr. Ossama Bahloul, the imam of the Islamic Center. “We have avoided litigation as long as we possibly could. But this lawsuit appeared to be the only way we could use our new mosque by the start of Ramadan. We hope the court will uphold the right of religious liberty for all, which is part of what makes this country so great.”
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 federal lawsuit in support of the mosque.
In addition to Becket, the Islamic Center is represented by George Barrett of the Nashville law firm Barrett Johnston, LLC.
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 email@example.com or call 202.349.7224.