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Press Release

Bernards Township Settles Federal Civil Suit, Agrees To Allow Islamic Society To Build Mosque

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. – Bernards Township, New Jersey, has agreed to settle a federal civil lawsuit to resolve allegations that the township violated federal law when it denied zoning approval to allow the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (ISBR) to build a mosque on property where zoning permitted houses of worship, U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick and Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division announced today.

The settlement agreement also resolves allegations that at the time the ISBR’s application was pending, the township revised its zoning code to unreasonably limit any house of worship from building in the township. The settlement resolves a lawsuit the Justice Department filed in November 2016. A separate settlement resolving a similar lawsuit brought by the Islamic Society against the township has also been reached.


“Federal law requires towns to treat religious land use applications like any other land use application,” Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick said. “Bernards Township made decisions that treated the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge differently than other houses of worship. The settlement announced today corrects those decisions and ensures that members of this religious community have the same ability to practice their faith as all other religions.”

“Federal law protects people of all religious communities from discrimination and unlawful obstacles when they seek to build a place of worship,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Wheeler said. “Through this agreement, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and its members will be able to build a mosque and exercise the fundamental American right of freedom of worship.”


The United States’ complaint alleged that Bernards Township violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when it discriminated against the Islamic Society based on its religion and the religion of its members. The complaint alleged that the township denied the application to build a mosque, applying standards and procedures to the Islamic Society that it had not applied to other religious and non-religious assemblies in the past; it imposed a substantial burden on the Islamic Society’s religious exercise; and it amended its zoning ordinance in a manner that imposes unreasonable limitations on all religious assemblies.


As part of the settlement, Bernards Township has agreed to permit the Islamic Society to construct a mosque on its property. The township has also agreed that its leaders and other township employees will undergo training on the requirements of RLUIPA. It has also agreed to publicize its non-discrimination policies and periodically report to the Justice Department on its compliance with the settlement agreement. The township has also agreed to amend its zoning ordinance to limit the zoning restrictions placed on houses of worship. In a separate settlement agreement, the township agreed to pay the Islamic Society $3.25 million to resolve its claims for damages and attorney’s fees caused by the denial of the mosque application.


The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael E. Campion, Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Unit, Civil Division; Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Horan Florio, Civil Rights Unit, Civil Division; and Trial Attorney Beth Pepper, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section.


RLUIPA prohibits discrimination in land use and zoning decisions. People who believe they have been subjected to discrimination in land use or zoning decisions may contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Hotline at (855) 281-3339 or the Civil Rights Division Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at (800) 896-7743.


Updated May 30, 2017

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 17-167