Muslims Sue Over Denial of Plans to Build a Mosque in N.J. Suburb

After nearly 40 hearings, the community will still not approve plans for the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge to build a mosque.

In the year 2011, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, a retired AT&T executive and a former Mayor, along with his other Islamic Society of Basking Ridge members, bought a 4-acre property in an area of Basking Ridge, a prosperous New Jersey suburb about one hour west of Manhattan, for the purpose of building a mosque. To avoid any conflicts or disputes, the architects and the engineers of the group decided to keep the design of the mosque less ostentatious. They decided that the mosque would not have a dome and that the minarets would be built like chimneys of homes nearby. They presented their plan to the Township Planning Board in 2012.

The plan was rejected, not once, but many times, for one reason or the other, over the span of the next four years. So far, there have been about 39 public hearings. Most often, it was the issues raised by the members of the public that stood as hurdles in the way of the plan. For a lot of people, the site was not suited for a mosque. For some, the building would interfere with the functioning of a volunteer fire station across the road. There have been relentless campaigns against the mosque project from the time the plan was submitted to the Planning Board.

One of the main campaigners has been a Basking Ridge resident, Lori Caratzola, who attended practically all the hearings and attacked the plan from all angles. According to her, all the terrorist attacks that happened in the country in the past 20 years were perpetrated by Muslims.

The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge filed the lawsuit three months after the Board members unanimously rejected the plan. The lawsuit states that the basis for rejecting the plan was not because of any parking problem or any safety problem or any other technical problems, but because of the community's or the Basking Ridge's residents’ general anti-Muslim attitudes. The suit also states that the society has so far spent around $450,000 to get the plan approved. The suit accuses the defendants of making arbitrary land-use decisions and violating the rights of practicing religion freely. It seeks that the denial of the plan be overturned, the restrictive sections of the zoning ordinance be invalidated, appoint a federal monitor, and provide for compensatory damages.

Mayor Carol Bianchi issued a statement saying that the Township of Bernards is an accommodating and warm community and that the accusations in the lawsuit do not represent the community. She said that she is looking forward to a satisfactory resolution.

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