WASHINGTON – The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division today filed an amicus brief in support of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., that has met with community opposition and a lawsuit.
The brief was filed in a state court action in which a group of Murfreesboro landowners are attempting to stop construction of the mosque. Rutherford County, Tenn., is the defendant in the civil case, and had granted permission for the construction of the mosque. The county is opposing the landowners’ attempt to stop construction.
The department’s brief argues that Islam is a religion entitled to protection under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and points out that, “consistent among all three branches of government, the United States has recognized Islam as a major world religion.” It also argues that mosques are places of religious worship, and that Rutherford County properly determined that it must treat the mosque project as it would other proposals for construction of places of worship.
“A mosque is quite plainly a place of worship, and the county rightly recognized that it had an obligation to treat mosques the same as churches, synagogue, or any other religious assemblies. This is not only common sense; it is required by federal law. The Justice Department is committed to protecting rights of Americans of all faiths to build places of worship and to worship in peace,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.
“Although this is presently a local matter, the U. S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee vigorously support the decision of the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission and the Board of Commissioners in approving the site plans and authorizing construction of a mosque and Islamic center,” said U.S. Attorney Jerry E. Martin. “To suggest that Islam is not a religion is quite simply ridiculous. Each branch of the federal government has independently recognized Islam as one of the major religions of the world. As pointed out in our brief filed with the court, had the Rutherford County Government adopted the position the plaintiffs set forth, it would likely be in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, enacted by the U.S. Congress in 2000.”
The department’s brief comes shortly after the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Religious Land Use or Institutionalized Persons act (RLUIPA) on Sept. 22, 2010. RLUIPA protects the rights of religious assemblies and institutions to be free from discrimination in the application of zoning and land-use laws. In the 10 years since its passage, RLUIPA has helped secure the ability of thousands of individuals and institutions to practice their faiths freely and without discrimination.
In the past 10 years, the department has opened 51 RLUIPA investigations, filed seven lawsuits under RLUIPA’s land-use provisions and participated in 40 privately filed lawsuits. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they have been victims of discrimination can call the Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, or e-mail the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.