Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tennessee Judge Rules Mosque Permit Invalid; Community Mistook Building for Muslin Facility

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- A Tennessee judge ruled Tuesday that the Rutherford County planning commission failed to provide lucid and adequate notice to the public in 2010 of a meeting to approve plans for the development of what turned out to be a mosque. As a result, the building permit for the 52,000-square-foot complex in Murfreesboro, Tenn., was invalidated -- even though construction of the Islamic worship center was nearly complete. Attempting to defuse a powder keg of religious and political tension, the judge indicated that much of the issue stemmed from confusion over the nature of the facility: "A good number of folks in the community were under the impression that a muslin community center -- not a Muslim community center -- was being put up. Sort of a museum to honor the early textile industry of the nation. Cotton's a big part of our cultural heritage in the South. It gave us gauze, cheesecloth, airy calico fabrics, and work for the African immigrants we took in."

A spokesperson for The Council on American-Islamic Relations attacked the ruling as biased and accused the court of employing "a heightened standard of public notice for an issue that involves Muslims."

The case underscores the mounting controversy surrounding efforts to build mosques for U.S. practitioners of the Islamic faith, whose numbers continue to grow. Officials in Tennessee have disputed this alleged growth, citing what they describe as a "penchant for suicide bombings with these people."

The attorney representing those opposed to the mosque praised the verdict as a great victory and said: "This is the first time in the United States that the political entity of Islam has been stopped in its tracks." One of the group's primary arguments posits that "Islam is not a real religion protected by the U.S. Constitution."

The presiding judge insinuated assent, but said his ruling better exemplified the victory of bureaucracy and policy -- the need to follow established rules -- rather than recognizing the legitimacy of a particular religion over another group's "combative, alien, and revisionist belief system."

In rendering his decision, the judge emphasized not only the discrepancy with the permit filing but also the fact that none of the mosque's officials would swear to their testimonies on the bible.

He told the court: "Even if the owners had followed the permitting procedures to the letter, their unsworn testimony here is inadmissible and subject to doubt. When residents in the community believed a muslin factory was being built -- a misunderstanding that arose from inadequate clarifications in the public notices posted by the mosque -- they had very few concerns. Fire safety came up, because untreated muslin is highly flammable, but not enough to warrant attendance for most people. But had they clearly understood that a Muslim community center was being built, there would have been more time for outrage to be expressed, crises of faith to be scrutinized, discussions of terrorism and security, and what I expect would have been a more heated conversation about the threat of fires in the neighborhood."

The court is currently reviewing whether to proceed with re-issuing valid permits or shuttering the project altogether.

(c) 2012. See disclaimers.