Judge blocks occupancy certificate for new Tennessee mosque

Judge blocks occupancy certificate for new Tennessee mosque

June 14th, 2012 by Associated Press in News

Construction work goes on in May at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

TRAVIS LOLLER, Associated Press

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - A Murfreesboro judge has blocked local officials from issuing an occupancy certificate for a new mosque.

The move comes about two weeks after Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew ruled that construction approval for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was void. Corlew agreed with mosque opponents that there was not sufficient public notice of the meeting where construction had been approved two years earlier.

Despite that ruling, county officials have not taken steps to stop mosque construction.

At a Wednesday hearing, plaintiffs asked Corlew to order the county to act.

"What is Tennessee Open Meetings law about, and what are the consequences, if you can say 'Yes, you violated the open meetings law but there are no consequences?'" attorney Joe Brandon Jr. asked.

Corlew declined to halt construction, saying his ruling was not enforceable until after a 30-day appeal period. The Planning Commission voted Monday to appeal. The County Commission will take up the issue Thursday.

However, Corlew did grant an injunction preventing county officials from taking new actions to forward mosque construction. He later clarified that the specific action the county could not take was granting an occupancy certificate.

Construction is nearly complete for the first phase of the Islamic Center, which consists of a 12,000-square-foot multipurpose area that will be used for worship as well as special events. Mosque members hope to have the building ready in time for Ramadan, which begins at the end of July.

The new building will replace the Islamic Center's current space in an office park, which the congregation has outgrown.

Corlew's injunction could prevent mosque members from celebrating the Muslim holy month in their new space, although either the county or the mosque could to take actions to try to alter or delay the ruling. That could include a do-over vote by the Planning Commission, this time with more public notice of the meeting.

Corlew emphasized this option in his ruling last month and suggested it again at the Wednesday hearing.