A NJ township is being sued by the U.S. Justice Department after violating federal law by discriminating against the Islamic Society.
Last March, World Religion News reported about the efforts of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (ISBR) in getting their plan to build a mosque in the prosperous New Jersey suburb of Basking Ridge approved by Bernards Township since 2012. After countless public hearings and a federal lawsuit filed by Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (ISBR) against the township, the plan has still not been approved. While the township is maintaining their stance on the Planning Board rejecting the plan due to legitimate land use and safety concerns, the Islamic Society cites Basking Ridge's residents’ general anti-Muslim attitudes as the reason that is keeping the plan from getting approved.
Last Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the township in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey, alleging that Bernards Township violated the Federal law by denying ISBR the right to build the 4,252-square-foot mosque at the proposed site on Church Street, Basking Ridge. The lawsuit cites discrimination against the Islamic Society as one of the reasons for denial of approval. It also states that the township failed to apply the standards and procedures that it usually follows in the case of other religious and non-religious parties' applications, in the case of ISBR's application.
The lawsuit was filed following an eight-month investigation on the matter by the Justice Department. Paul J. Fishman, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, said that the Federal law “ensures that municipalities must treat religious land use applications like any other land use application.” The Bernards Township officials have violated this by cunningly using the ever-changing local land requirements to deny ISBR's application to build the mosque, continuously. (Last April, the township passed a resolution to review the plan under the previous zoning ordinance). When ISBR initially requested for zoning, the construction of places of worship was permitted at the proposed site.
Bernards Township released a statement last Tuesday after the lawsuit was filed against them. The statement shows the township maintaining their stance on rejecting ISBR's application solely based on land use considerations. The statement also shows the township claiming a relationship between ISBR's head and one of the lead Justice Department investigators. According to them, the investigation was not conducted in a fair manner.
Justice Dept. sues New Jersey Township for blocking construction of mosque after more than 3 years and 39 hearings. https://t.co/seWESbvO5C
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) November 26, 2016
According to Mohammad Ali Chaudry, ISBR's president, the lawsuit squashes Bernards Township's claim that the mosque application was denied based on legitimate land use issues. Their community deserves a place of their own to pray, and they will ensure that they get it by standing up for their constitutional rights. As of now, ISBR's congregants have to travel 25 minutes by car, too far a distance for many of the members, for daily prayers.