NY Judge Dismisses Ex-Firefighter’s Ground Zero Mosque Suit

Correction Appended

A New York judge dismissed a former firefighter's lawsuit to block an Islamic center from opening near the World Trade Center.

State Supreme Court Justice Paul G. Feinman dismissed the lawsuit against the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission on Friday. Feinman ruled that ex-firefighter, Timothy Brown, lacked legal standing to sue the Commission and block the Park 51 community center and mosque from being built two blocks away from ground zero.

Brown’s attorney Jack Lester said the lawsuit to preserve the building where the mosque would be erected as a landmark was meant to honor the 9/11 victims. The building, a Burlington Coat Factory store, was damaged when planes destroyed the twin towers.

"We believe the brave men and women who risked their lives have standing to preserve the monuments and historic buildings at ground zero," contended Lester.

But Adam Leitman Bailey, the lawyer for Park 51 developer Sharif el-Gamal, called the decision "a victory for America."

"[T]he judge flexed our Constitution's muscles enforcing the very bedrock of our democracy," Bailey told The New York Times.

Brown was a first respondent during the 9/11 attacks in New York City and has been actively protesting against the proposed Park 51 facility.

He contended on the Fox News network that the developers were dishonest about the project, requesting money meant to rebuild the ground zero community when they originally insisted the property was not part of ground zero.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation told The Christian Post it has set aside $17 million for the Community and Cultural Enhancement program.

"It's just so disingenuous. It took us by complete surprise," said Brown.

El-Gamal previously said that he did not intend for the project to cause controversy.

Plans reveal that the 13-story center would include a mosque, a daycare, preschool, gym and 9/11 Memorial, which are "desperately needed in Lower Manhattan," according to Park 51 developers.

However, the plans for the center have caused divisions among Americans along political and even faith lines.

A November 2010 poll revealed that nearly half of all Protestants prefer the center change location. Over a quarter of Protestants say the mosque should be turned into an interfaith center, and more than 6 in 10 Mormons and Roman Catholics said the Islamic center should find another location.

But only one third of atheists and agnostics agree that the center should be moved. A quarter of other non-Christian groups say the same.

Dr. Richard Land, a Southern Baptist and president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said, "As Baptists, we believe in religious freedom that is the right of people to the free exercise of their faith without interference from government authorities."

Yet he believes the proposed center is too close to the 9/11 site.

Land wrote in a Washington Post commentary, "It still remains a fact that the people who perpetrated the 9/11 attack were Muslims and proclaimed they were doing what they were doing in the name of Islam."

For that reason, opponents say that the project is too close for comfort.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg supports the project. He maintains that the Constitution guarantees faith leaders and their followers the right to dictate where a house of worship may be located.

Brown's lawyers suggested in the lawsuit that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission's decision to withhold landmark status was influenced by the mayor.

A spokesman for the city dismissed the argument as a "conspiracy theory" and maintained the commission followed proper procedures.

El-Gamal has other obstacles to overcome in order to finish the Park 51 center. The project is still working to raise the $100 million needed to build the center, reports NYT.

Correction: Monday, July 11, 2011:

An article on July 11, 2011, about a New York judge dismissing a lawsuit over the construction of the Park 51 Islamic center near ground zero incorrectly reported that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation allotted $17 million for the Park 51 community center and mosque. The LMDC allocated the $17 million toward the Community and Cultural Enhancement program.

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