A faithful congregation outgrows its mosque
For 30 years, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro offered worship services, religious education, and community service in Rutherford County, Tennessee. As its congregation grew, the mosque’s 2,100 square foot space became too small for the hundreds of families and local college students it served. In 2010, the congregation obtained county approval to begin building a larger community center for religious ceremonies and other events.
Religious hostility and a heated lawsuit
After construction began, the congregation faced vocal protests from local residents who claimed, among other things, that Islam is not a religion, and that the First Amendment doesn’t protect Muslims. Unfortunately, these hostile words were also backed by acts of violence—including vandalism, arson, and even a bomb threat that ended in a federal indictment.
Hostility to the mosque culminated in a lawsuit led by local residents. Although the mosque was approved at a typical meeting of the county planning commission in 2010—the same way the county had approved the last twenty local churches—the judge ruled that the mosque should be subject to a heightened legal standard, due to “tremendous public interest.”
Becket defends the Muslim community’s right to build a house of worship
The case was urgent—the congregation wanted to be allowed to use its mosque in time to celebrate Ramadan, the holiest time in the Muslim calendar.
So Becket filed a federal lawsuit seeking an emergency order allowing the congregation to use its mosque. We argued that subjecting the mosque to a higher legal standard than a Christian church violates the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution.
In July 2012, Chief Judge Todd Campbell of the Nashville federal district court ruled in our favor, saying that Rutherford County, Tennessee, must allow the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro to complete the inspection process so it can use its mosque building in time for the religious holiday of Ramadan. Finally, in August 2012, members of the Islamic Center used their newly built mosque for prayer services for the first time. And in June 2014, the Supreme Court rejected the mosque opponents’ final appeal, preserving Becket’s victory and ensuring that the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro is free to continue worshipping at its newly built mosque.
No religion is an island. When the rights of one faith are threatened, the rights of all faiths are threatened. All religious communities must be free to gather together in worship.
To hear the full story and learn more about this case, listen to Becket’s Stream of Conscience Podcast episode, “Permits and Prejudice”.
Importance to religious liberty:
- Property Rights: When it comes to property rights, religious communities—especially minority religious groups—often face discrimination from local governments or their communities. Becket defends the right of all faiths the practice their religion, which includes the crucial ability to build and gather in a house of worship.
- Religious Communities: Religious communities have the right to operate according to their religious beliefs even if the wider community around them disagrees with those beliefs.
In January 2010, the Romeikes were presented with a choice no parents should have to make: abandon their religious beliefs, or lose custody of their children.
The Romeike family is from the German state of Baden-Württemberg, and chose to educate their children at home in order to follow their Evangelical Christian beliefs. However, state authorities refused to accept this and sent police to march the Romeike children to the local public school, invoking the Schulpflichtgesetz, or School Duty Law. The family fled from their homeland to Tennessee, and sought asylum in the United States.
In July 2010, Becket submitted an amicus brief to the United States Board of Immigration Appeals. It described the disturbing Nazi-era background of the School Duty Law, and explained that the original purpose of the law was to suppress “the development of religiously and philosophically motivated parallel societies.” The Romeikes were not evading their duty to educate their children, only the state’s attempt to indoctrinate their children against their religious beliefs.
An immigration judge granted the Romeikes’ request for asylum, but the federal government appealed that decision, and in May 2013 the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately ruled against the Romeikes.
Watch Becket’s Daniel Blomberg discuss the religious liberty implications of this case at FRC University (starts at 22:00 min).
Watch Becket’s Luke Goodrich debate Does Germany’s Ban on Homeschooling Count as Religious Persecution? at the University of St. Thomas.