Tenn. judge won’t stop mosque construction
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Opponents of a mosque being built in Tennessee got the government decision that approved it overturned June 1, but they lost their bid to stop construction immediately.
Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew stated in a written order released in the Nashville suburb of Murfreesboro that the approval was void because it was taken in violation of the Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act. He ruled earlier last week that the county didn’t give the public adequate notice of what has become a contentious issue.
The order prohibited further meetings on the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro without proper notice.
But the decision also said that if the mosque opponents wanted to halt construction, they must begin a new court action.
The construction has been ongoing during the year-and-a-half the court case has dragged on. Mosque leaders hope to finish the first phase of construction, a 12,000-square-foot multi-purpose structure for worship and events, before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins at the end of July.
The lawyer for the mosque opponents was in court when the order was released and couldn’t provide comment in time for this story.
Islamic Center board chairman Essam Fathy said he was relieved by the order.
“This news sounds good because we can take our breath with it,” he said.
Fathy noted that mosque leaders had followed the proper procedures for permitting and construction and went through the same process as a neighboring church.
“We are as American as they are,” he said. “We know our constitutional rights.”
The mosque was one of several Muslim projects in the U.S. that hit a swell of conservative Christian opposition in 2010 as outrage flared over a plan to build a Muslim community center near New York’s ground zero.
In Tennessee, there were large protests and counter-protests and arson of construction equipment at the building site soon after the approval was issued.
A group of opponents asked the court to stop the mosque from being built.
During lengthy hearings, they presented testimony that questioned whether Islam is a legitimate religion and promoted a theory that American Muslims want to replace the Constitution with extremist Islamic law and the mosque was a part of that plot.
The judge dismissed those allegations but held a trial earlier this year on the narrower claim that the open-meetings law was violated.
Lead plaintiff Kevin Fisher said his attorneys were deciding their next step, which could include requesting an injunction to stop construction.
“They shouldn’t have to go to that step,” he said. “If you look at the law, it’s clear. For every county, every city, if you don’t have a site plan, you can’t build. Why is this special?”