Attorney Luke Goodrich, left, and Ossama Bahloul, the mosque's imam, leave the courthouse after a judge ruled in favor of the Murfreesboro mosque. / Jae S. Lee / The Tennessean
By Bobby Allyn, The Tennessean
A new mosque in Murfreesboro can open in time for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a federal judge affirmed on Wednesday.
District Judge Todd Campbell reached his decision hours after attorneys
for the mosque and the U.S. Department of Justice sued Rutherford
County. His action is the latest in two-year battle over whether the
county properly advertised a planning meeting on mosque construction.
The ruling cites freedom of religion and overturns a recent chancery court order that barred the mosque from opening.
are here to celebrate the freedom of religion and that the concept of
liberty is a fact existing in this nation," said Ossama Bahloul, the
mosque's imam. "The winner today is not an individual, the winner today
is our nation and the fact that our Constitution prevailed."
regional planning commission advertised its May 24, 2010, meeting
agenda, which included the mosque, in the Murfreesboro Post newspaper,
the same place the county advertises all of its public events.
opponents alleged that didn't constitute adequate public notice given
intense local interest in the mosque, and they filed suit against the
county. But in court arguments, opponents made clear they also objected
to the practice of Islam.
Their attorney, Joe Brandon, said he
wasn't surprised that the U.S. attorney got involved and reiterated his
view that public will was circumvented.
"You don't throw a lawsuit
like this together overnight," he said. "So, clearly, it's something
they've been planning for some time."
The chancery court ruling
blocked county workers from inspecting and issuing a certificate of
occupancy for the mosque, along Veals Road off Bradyville Pike, although
Campbell's restraining order renders that ruling moot. The inspection
process can continue on the 12,000-square-foot building, and mosque
leaders hope the site will meet all its requirements to ensure the new
space can be used for Ramadan, the monthlong period of daytime fasting
that will begin at sundown today.
Mosque leaders were unsure if
they would be able to occupy the site by the first day. In years past,
much of their community spent services for Eid-al-Fitr, the breaking of
the fast of Ramadan, in the parking lot of their rented worship space -
one they outgrew years ago and sought to replace.
action could follow to address the pain Muslims associated with the
Islamic center have endured, said attorney Luke Goodrich of the Becket
Fund for Religious Liberty, who represented mosque leaders in the suit.
Goodrich told the judge the mosque has been "under siege the past two
years," noting that a federal grand jury last month indicted a
24-year-old Texas man for making a bomb threat against it. No one has
been arrested in an August 2010 arson involving construction equipment
on the site.
County officials have remained in support of the
mosque being treated like any other religious building. They have
appealed the chancery court ruling, objecting to its assertion that the
mosque should have a different public notice requirement than other
"We have maintained from the outset that federal law
requires that the ICM (Islamic Center of Murfreesboro) be treated in the
same manner as other religious uses, and the county has done just
that," county Mayor Ernest Burgess said.
U.S. Attorney Jerry
Martin said in court that chancery court judge established a "mosque
standard," which created a set of rules that discriminated against
The Daily News Journal contributed to this report.