The Department of Justice has also penalized the town.
Bernards Township, an upscale New Jersey town will pay $3.25 million to the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge to settle a lawsuit. The town had earlier denied the Islamic group a permit to construct a mosque. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Islamic Society will be permitted to construct a mosque. The town has consented to zoning restrictions applicable to houses of worship.
The Islamic Society claimed that Bernards Township changed its own zoning ordinances to thwart the construction of the mosque. A similar charge against the town was also brought by the Department of Justice. The DOJ also sued this township on similar charges in 2016. It alleged the group was treated differently compared to other religious groups. The $3.25 million settlement money includes the attorneys' fees of $1.75 million and about $1.5 million for repairing the damages.
Construction of the mosque was proposed by Islamic Society of Basking Ridge in April 2012. There were 39 public hearings spread over almost four years. During those four years, the Islamic group was the target of anti-Muslim xenophobia, hostile social media posts and fliers printed for the sole purpose to sway people's opinion against the Muslim place of worship.
Faced with no alternative, the Islamic group consequently sued Bernards Township and also the town's planning board. The suit was filed in March 2016. It was alleged in the group's lawsuit the planning board of the town had manufactured a number of excuses to ensure that the permit gets denied. It also encouraged hostility against the mosque construction proposal.
Second time a bigoted zoning board in NJ has lost in an attempt to block a mosque from being built. Next up: Bayonne https://t.co/nESyPDsqtp
— Halema (@_HalemaW) May 30, 2017
In response, the Bernards Township committee, through a spokesperson, said it has not indulged in any discriminatory practices against the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge. It said the proposal was denied solely on land use criteria. It had noted the members of the group have utilized a number of other facilities provided by the township to practice religion. Michael P. Turner, the town spokesman, said everybody is welcome to stay in the township. He continued on to say the result is the end of a prolonged engagement on the application, and there could be varied opinions on the matter. However, it is in the township's best interests to conclude this litigation.
The assessment of the township was disagreed upon by the federal judge, who ruled on December 31 that the town has not made the same assessments when the same kind of application was made by other religions. The Department of Justice would also sue the town on the basis of using different standards in cases of different religions.