You are posting a comment about... Legal Machinations Over Murfreesboro Mosque Rulings
Imam Bahloul of Islam Center of Murfreesboro
Source: Daily News Journal, Murfreesboro
This is the week not to be believed in Murfreesboro given the legal machinations over the recent ruling by Rutherford County Court Chancellor, Robert E. Corlew III on June 1st. That ruling declared that Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission approvals granted following a hearing in May 2010 were invalid and that construction on the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM) must cease. Chancellor Corlew’s June 1st ruling resulted from a two day hearing in April brought by Mosque opponents based on apparent evidence that adequate notice was not given to County residents under the provisions of the State’s Sunshine Laws. The May 24, 2010 Regional Planning Commission approval gave the green light for site approval and construction of the ICM mega mosque complex of 53,000 square feet on 15 plus acres at a site on 2700 Veals Road purchased in November 2009. Chancellor Corwell ruled against the mosque opponents in a 2011 decision that enabled the ICM mega mosque project to proceed with construction.
However, Chancellor Corlew’s June 1st order required Plaintiffs to file a Writ of Mandamus to stop construction, or so they thought. That motion was filed on June 6th to stop construction of the first phase of the 12,500 square feet of the ICM mega mosque nearing completion. This is just prior to the July 20th onset of the month long Islamic holy period of Ramadan.
Monday, the Regional County Planning Commission went into closed executive session, apparently permitted under a 1984 Tennessee Law, and voted 6 to 1 to appeal Corlew’s June 1st ruling which they deemed discriminatory under Tennessee and Federal Law. The Regional Planning Commission did not indicate whether they might reopen the approval process as suggested in Corlew’s June 1st order.
The Daily News Journal (DNJ) noted this comment from lead Plaintiff Kevin Fisher about the Regional Planning Commission decision:
“I have no doubt whatsoever that the rights of the local citizens to be notified will be upheld,” Fisher said. “What I find tragic is that we have a county government so arrogant, so corrupted by power, they are willing to trample on the rights of law abiding citizens in the name of political correctness. Political correctness has no place in this debate. This issue was judged solely on the merits of the facts alone, not hype and angry rhetoric. That’s an honorable standard to set, and only in America is this even possible. To now challenge this standard is offensive to all of us who long for a day when one's race, creed, color or religion plays no part in discussions, and where the only issue of relevance is merit.”
On Wednesday, a hearing was held before Chancellor Corlew on the Plaintiffs’ Writ of Mandamus motion that resulted in a possible hold on the County’s issuance of a certificate of occupancy for the ICM Mega Mosque project. The DNJ noted this latest development:
Chancellor Robert Corlew ruled Wednesday that the Rutherford County government can’t issue a certificate of occupancy for the mosque because of a previous ruling he issued voiding action at the 2010 planning meeting in which the mosque site plan had been approved.
The Chancellor reminded county officials Wednesday of his previous decision that they had the option to place the mosque construction plans back on a future meeting agenda, give proper adequate notice and vote on the issue without discriminating against the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
The mosque opponents and plaintiffs still have additional tolling requirements to fulfill given a related ruling by Chancellor. The DNJ noted:
Corlew rejected a request from plaintiffs to force the county to stop work on the ICM. Court procedures require a 30-day wait before plaintiffs can file such a motion, meaning they will have to wait until July 2.
ICM board member Saleh Sbetany gave vent to their allegations of discrimination:
Sbenaty said. “But because of pressure from a few radical, narrow-minded people who are opposing the construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, they have to bend the rules to satisfy their Islamophobia. This is not fair. The United States in the 21st century does not discriminate because of race or color or religious belief. Reapplying to us is not a matter of formality. It’s a matter of principle.”
Thursday evening, the Rutherford County Commission met to discuss regular business. Two issues related to the ICM mega mosque controversy were addressed; the Planning Commission Appeal of Chancellor Corlew’s rulings on June 1st and June 13th and renewal of County Attorney Jim Cope’s contract. The Commissioners debated whether they should renew Cope’s contract or consider creation of a formal post in county government for a legal counsel. They opted to renew given the continuing litigation over the ICM project. According to the DNJ the County has expended over $189,000 for Cope’s services in connection with the 2011 and 2012 ICM hearings. Cope had advised the Regional Planning Commission on Monday’s executive session to appeal Chancellor Corlew’s rulings and not reopen the ICM approval process on the grounds to do so would constitute religious discrimination. A line that was repeated by ICM Imam Bahloul and Board Member Sbetany and the majority of Regional Planning Commission members who voted to appeal Corlew’s rulings.
At Thursday’s regular County Commission session there was a brief public comment period. Rutherford County resident Elizabeth Coker noted that prior to the September 2010 Court hearing on the zoning approval for the ICM, opponents had voiced objections to the planning and vetting process at a Public Works Committee hearing on August 3, 2010. She noted that citizen concerns at the August 2010 Public Works hearing focused on inadequate Regional Planning Commission hearing notification, traffic and environmental impact issues. Coker also referenced her presentation at the September 27, 2010 Public Safety Committee meeting providing background information on connections of ICM board member Mosaad Rawash to HAMAS, a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, designated a foreign terrorist organization by our State Department.
Following last night’s County Commission meeting, she discussed with the County Planning Commission Chair Phillips case law indicating that exemptions of religious institutions from local zoning approvals under both Tennessee legislation and the 2000 Federal Religious Land Use and Incarcerated Persons Act (RLUIPA) did not prevent local authorities from exercising police powers to conduct due diligence on zoning applicants. Coker had the opportunity to review these issues on Friday morning’sSteve Gill Show that covers a network of radio stations across Tennessee.
So, is this a stall? We will have to wait to see whether an order denying County issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy for the ICM mega-mosque is issued on July 2nd. Perhaps whatever occurs on that date in you may also witness a possible US Department of Justice intervention in the form of an amicus brief in any appeal brought by the Regional Planning Commission with the assistance of County Counsel Cope. As Assistant US Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, head of the USDOJ Civil Rights Division, allegedly told ICM and other Middle Tennessee Muslim leaders during a visit in October 2010: “we have your back.”