published Friday, August 24th, 2012

Mosque foes argue to intervene in federal case

  • photo
    Worshipers leave the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro after midday prayers in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — A federal judge will rule next week on whether opponents of a Murfreesboro mosque can have a say in a religious discrimination case involving the building.

Attorney Joe Brandon Jr. represents the group of mosque neighbors and other Rutherford County residents asking the court to let them intervene. He argued at a Friday hearing in Nashville that his clients have an interest in the federal case because it overturned their state court victory.

In that ruling earlier this summer, Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew said the May 2010 Planning Commission meeting where the mosque’s construction was approved was void due to insufficient public notice. He ruled that the intense public interest in the mosque meant the meeting should have been advertised more broadly than county meetings normally are.

U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin, in asking a federal judge last month to overturn that ruling, said Corlew had illegally created a separate “mosque standard” that applied only to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

The judge agreed and ordered the county to continue inspections and permitting of the mosque.

On Thursday, the building received its final certificate of occupancy and it is unclear what the mosque opponents could achieve if they were allowed to intervene.

Among their claims, the opponents say their rights were violated because they were unaware of the meeting where the mosque was approved, therefore unable to lobby the local planning commission about it. They also raise some claims that are similar to the ones that were dismissed in state court, including that local Muslims are linked to terrorists.

On Friday, Eric Treene, Special Counsel for Religious Liberty for the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, argued that the mosque opponents should not be allowed to intervene in the lawsuit. He said that while the opponents have an interest in the case in a colloquial sense, they do not have a legal interest in the case because it concerns only whether Rutherford County officials placed a substantial burden on mosque members’ right to the free exercise of their religion.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp said he would rule next week whether to allow the intervention.

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