Federal judge allows mosque opponents to intervene

photo Worshipers leave the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro after midday prayers in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

NASHVILLE - A federal judge in Nashville ruled Wednesday to allow opponents of a Murfreesboro mosque to have a say in the religious freedom case involving the building.

Judge Kevin Sharp decided the group of neighbors has a legitimate interest in the case. An emergency ruling by a different federal judge last month overruled the neighbors' victory in Chancery Court that would have halted construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

Sharp put strict limits on the issues the mosque opponents will be allowed to address in court.

They can address whether the Chancery Court's order violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. They cannot address unproven accusations that mosque members have ties to terrorists.

Neighbors fought the Islamic center in state court for two years. During that time construction was ongoing and last week the mosque received its final certificate of occupancy and opened for services.

Joe Brandon Jr., an attorney for the neighbors, was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday. After a hearing on the intervention last week, Brandon said his ultimate goal was to void the federal court order that allowed the mosque to get its occupancy certificate and to void that certificate.

The neighbors intervened in a case brought by the U.S. attorney's office last month. The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro filed a related case making several of the same claims on the same day.

Islamic Center attorney Luke Goodrich, with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said of the ruling that he has confidence in the judgment of the court.

"The mosque is happy to trust the judicial system and to trust the U.S. Constitution," he said. "They are confident the court will continue to protect their right to worship on the same terms as any other religious group."