A federal judge has ruled in favor of Muslim community seeking to build a mosque whose lawsuit against a New Jersey township had the backing of two evangelical groups.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael A. Shipp issued a ruling on New Year's Eve in favor of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge in their lawsuit against the Township of Bernards.
Judge Shipp concluded that the Township Planning Board's rejection of a mosque building plan was in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
"While local zoning boards generally retain substantial discretion in their ability to consider traffic, aesthetic, and other local community needs, RLUIPA codifies narrow exceptions that apply where a zoning board's conduct infringes upon First Amendment religious rights," wrote Shipp.
"Here, plaintiffs have raised a valid challenge under one of RLUIPA's narrow, yet highly protective, provisions — the Nondiscrimination Provision. ... Viewing the pleadings in the light most favorable to Defendants, the court, therefore, finds that defendants' application of the Parking Ordinance's 3:1 ratio for 'churches' constitutes impermissible discrimination on the basis of religion."
In December 2015, the Bernards Township rejected the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge's application to build a mosque.
"Residents cheered, applauded and were giddy with delight after the Bernards Township Planning Board on Tuesday unanimously voted down the application to build an Islamic mosque on Church Street," the Basking Ridge Patch reports.
"The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, Inc. had submitted an application back in September 2012 to build a 4,250-square-foot Islamic mosque on Church Street, a historic section of the township."
In May 2015, a coalition of faith-based and civil rights groups filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Islamic Society.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Association of Evangelicals were among the groups that signed onto the amicus brief.
"A Muslim mosque cannot be subjected to a different land-use approval process than a Christian church simply because local protesters oppose the mosque," read the brief's introduction.
"Amici urge this court to grant plaintiffs' 12(c) motion for partial judgment on the pleadings because defendants have improperly applied different legal standards to a mosque simply because it is a mosque."
The ERLC's involvement with the case garnered controversy within the SBC, as some clergy argued that the denomination should not support the construction of mosques in the United States.
"While Muslims around the world and in our own country are shouting 'Death to America' should we be defending their rights to build mosques, which often promote Sharia law and become training grounds for radicalizing Muslims?" wrote Gerald Harris, editor of the Georgia Baptist newspaper The Christian Index last June.
"[I]t must be understood that to Muslims, freedom of religion means practicing Islam only. Muslims are compelled by the Quran to destroy all other religions by whatever means necessary so that Islam may be the only religion in the entire world."