An Islamic community has filed a federal lawsuit against Bernards Township, the township committee and its planning board, saying they manufactured excuses to deny it the right to build a mosque.
The suit was filed by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and its president, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, against the township and 15 individuals on the township committee and planning board. Chaudry is a former mayor, member of the committee and board of education member, the suit says.
Township Administrator Bruce McArthur said all township personnel have been advised not comment publicly about the litigation.
Mayor Carol Bianchi did issue a statement:
“Bernards Township is an inclusive and warm community. The allegations in the lawsuit do not represent our community. It is not unusual for an applicant to appeal a denial, and it is their right. The Planning Board made its decision and now the court will decide whether to uphold that decision. We look forward to a satisfactory resolution of this matter.”
The lawsuit comes about three months after planners unanimously rejected the society’s application to build a mosque on a 4.3-acre site on Church Street. Planners said the application was based on a “lack of details” regarding parking, traffic safety and buffer zones bordering the site’s residential neighbords.
Planners frequently agreed with “one unreasonable and picayune land use objection after another” raised by opponents, even though a house of worship is a permitted use on the site, the lawsuit says.
It says opponents were “coached” to phrase their opinions “through the permissible language of land use: parking, buffer and screening requirements, storm water management, and so on.” Opponents, it says, also were warned not to state objections toward Muslims or their faith itself.
The society filed its application for preliminary and final site plan approval for a 4,252-square-foot mosque in April of 2012, the suit says.
What followed was “pronounced hostility” from the community and objections manufactured by the planning board, it says. Residents said they feared the mosque could host potential terrorists and warned that Islamic law must be opposed, the suit says.
Additionally, a citizens group formed expressly to oppose the mosque lobbied throughout the township, it says.
After the society filed its application, the township committee amended the zoning ordinance to make new houses of worship difficult, if not impossible, to build, the suit says.
The society spent more than $450,000 to get approval of its site plan, the lawsuit says.
The suit charges that the defendants violated their rights to freely practice their religion and that they made arbitrary land-use decisions.
It seeks judicial orders to overturn the denial of the society’s application to develop the site, invalidate the restrictive sections of the zoning ordinance, appointment of a federal monitor and compensatory damages, among other things.
Where did the Islamic society get half a million dollars for a site plan? Now check out this headline also in New Jersey:
Fundamentalist Muslims Set Sights on N.J. Town and Angry Residents Resist…oh wait, here’s the real title: Orthodox Jews Set Sights on N.J. Town and Angry Residents Resist. The media would never put a headline like that stating Muslims were setting their sites on any town although it’s happening across the U.S.