The good fight is not over yet. We will not submit. via Mosque plaintiffs challenge federal ruling | The Daily News Journal | dnj.com.
MURFREESBORO — Plaintiffs opposed to the government’s approval of a Rutherford County mosque seek to challenge federal rulings that overturned their local court victory.
A motion from the plaintiffs seeking to intervene in the federal court case claims they are “victims” of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, the county’s zoning resolution and local government’s “violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.” The motion further contends their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection as citizens were violated.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys, Joe Brandon Jr. of Murfreesboro and Tom Smith of Franklin, filed a motion Thursday to intercede in the recent federal court rulings. The federal court had ruled that the mosque could apply for a final inspection leading to occupying the building.
That ruling trumped Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew III’s early decision based on what he called lack of adequate public notice the county gave before issuing mosque developers a building permit.
Smith said he and Brandon had requested a hearing on their motion Monday, but federal Judge Kevin Sharp instead asked U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin to file a response.
“Technically they get 14 days if the judge doesn’t give us an emergency hearing,” said Smith, noting the plaintiffs have not been granted a chance to respond to a previous emergency hearing for the ICM. “It’s a big question mark in our mind. The federal district court can’t be an appellate court for a state court ruling, and that’s what they’ve done.”
Prior to Judge Sharp taking over the case, Chief Judge Todd Campbell of the Nashville federal district court overruled Corlew during an emergency hearing July 18 on the same day the ICM filed the case with the assistance of the U.S. Attorney for Middle Tennessee, Nashville attorney George E. Barrett and lawyers with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C.
Campbell determined that Corlew’s decision to void approval of the ICM’s new mosque on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike discriminated against the congregation. The federal judge granted the emergency hearing and a 14-day restraining order on Corlew’s ruling because the ICM wanted to be able to move in its new building for the holy month of Ramadan, which started July 20.
Although ICM leaders had said they wanted to get in their building by the start of Ramadan, the contractor building the mosque told County Building Codes Director David Jones on July 19 the project would not be done for about two weeks.
Jones said Monday that mosque construction crews could be finished this week.
“They are getting real close,” Jones said during an interview at the County Courthouse in Murfreesboro after he stopped by the mayor’s office. “They’ve come a long way in a short time. There’s been some inspections performed. At this time, we have not set a formal inspection for the certificate of occupancy but inspections do continue daily. We are continually talking to them every day toward that final (certificate of occupancy). We’ve been out there three days straight (not counting weekend).”
The state fire marshal stopped by the new mosque and informed the contractor of some electrical work that needed to be done to pass inspection, Jones said.
The building codes director said he has not received a report from the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation yet to verify that the septic tank meets state requirements.
“It may happen (today),” Jones said.
The water lines coming from Consolidated Utility District appear to be ready, Jones added.
Because the ICM needed more time, the county and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nashville filed a motion last week seeking more time than the original 14-day restraining order, and Judge Sharp extended the deadline to Aug. 15.
The ICM has long-term plans to build 52,960 square feet and will open the first 12,000 square feet soon. The congregation has been meeting in a cramped space of about 2,250 square feet on the back side of a small office complex at 862 Middle Tennessee Blvd. near South Church Street.
ICM board member Saleh Sbenaty said his congregation is looking forward to soon obtaining its certificate of occupancy.
“We the residents of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County are going to be united against Islamophobes who are trying adamantly to misinform the public about the true face of Islam and the Muslim community in Murfreesboro in particular,” said Sbenaty, a 19-year professor at MTSU. “The Muslim community has been an essential and productive part of our community for many decades and is going to continue to play an essential part of this peaceful and welcoming community, regardless of the efforts that the opponents are trying to do.”
National Islamophones have helped the plaintiffs damage the reputation of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, Sbenaty said.
“Enough money has been wasted on lawsuit after lawsuit,” Sbenaty said. “Our community would have been served much better if the money spent on the lawsuit is spent on education, law enforcement agencies or improving our community.”
Reaction to feds
In response to being overruled, Corlew suspended his previous rulings that banned the county from issuing a certificate of occupancy on July 19. He was about to rule that the county issue a stop-work order on the new mosque when the first federal court ruling came down.
The plaintiffs’ motion to intercede in the federal case contends that Corlew’s conclusions about the testimony and evidence presented were ignored.
They point out that Judge Corlew ruled that the county’s legal notice in The Murfreesboro Post to announce the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission meeting in question failed to be adequate prior to approval of the mosque construction plans May 24, 2010. The free paper at the time didn’t reach driveways in the unincorporated areas, including where the new mosque will open near southeast city limits of Murfreesboro.
“Only 196 papers were placed in racks in the unincorporated-areas of the county, despite the fact that approximately one-third of the county’s citizens — over 81,000 people — live in that area,” the plaintiffs’ federal motion to intercede states.
Corlew’s decision also noted that the county didn’t meet its usual goal of posting an agenda for the meeting in question on the county’s website. The county also didn’t mention the meeting time, date and location on the local government’s cable TV channel.
Ah, so who are the real Islamophobes? The one’s who conveniently and intentionally withheld information from the people to illegally get the mosque approved against the wishes of citizens in the neighborhood?
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