On October 18, 2010, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an Amicus Curiae (“friend of the court”) brief with the Rutherford County Chancery Court, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, defending the Constitutional freedom of religion for Muslim-Americans, and defending their federal rights to freedom of worship, as stated under the “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act” (RLUIPA) of 2000. Amicus Curiae filings are intended to provide a court with information or legal opinion that has bearing on a case.
Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) supports the U.S. Constitution and federal law, and urges other Americans to sign our petition calling for the Justice Department and Preside Obama to enforce the law and defend our Constitution.
Under the RLUIPA federal law, the U.S. Attorney General is authorized “to institute or intervene in any proceeding” to enforce this federal law, to ensure that people of all religions are not discriminated in local land use law in regards to their Constitutional First Amendment protection for places of worship and other religious uses of real property. (Per a DOJ analysis of its investigations on RLUIPA law, the majority of their efforts are in support of Christian groups and churches, but also notes that 8 RLUIPA investigations have had to be opened in support of Muslim groups since May 2010.)
The DOJ court filing is in response to efforts, previously reported by R.E.A.L., by James Estes, Kevin Fisher, Henry Golczynski, and Lisa Moore to file a lawsuit in Rutherford County court to try to stop the lawful construction of a mosque expansion of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM) . The existing Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has been in Murfreesboro, Tennessee for 30 years without problem, prior to the recent surge in anti-Islam movement activities, across the United States led by anti-Islam activists.
According to the Department of Justice Press Release on the Amicus Curiae filing, “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.”
The DOJ press release also states: ” ‘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.”
According to the 50-page DOJ Amicus Curiae filing, “Plaintiffs have put into controversy whether Islam is a religion and whether a mosque is entitled to treatment as a place of religious assembly for legal purposes. The United States submits this brief to assist this court in resolving these issues. As set forth more fully below, under the United States Constitution and other federal laws, it is uncontroverted that Islam is a religion, and a mosque is a place of religious assembly.”
“The United States has an interest in these proceedings because the pleadings and testimony implicate federal civil rights statutes by putting at issue whether Islam is a religion and whether operating a mosque is a religious use of property.”
“Islam is a religion entitled to First Amendment Protection. Every court addressing the question has treated Islam as a religion for purposes of the First Amendment and other federal laws. No court has held otherwise. Islam falls plainly within the understanding of a religion for constitution and other federal legal purposes, and qualifies as a religion under the various tests courts have developed for analyzing claims that certain apparently secular activities merit protection as religious conduct.” [In the filing, the DOJ references Supreme Court decisions, presidential proclamations and comments, Congressional actions, and statements of America's founding fathers, as well as citing extensive legal precedent and decisions on related issues.]
“This understanding is not new. Over two-hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson, in commenting on the Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom – a bill he not only authored, but also counted as one of his greatest achievements – wrote that the law was understood ‘to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”
The DOJ also makes clear in its 50-page filing that court proceedings questioning whether Islam is a religion would challenge the DOJ’s civil rights enforcement authority under the RLUIPA federal law, as well as DOJ law enforcement authority for Church Arson Protection Act (“which specifically included mosques within the definition of covered ‘religious real property’”).
The DOJ filing also states that “the plaintiffs in this case would have the Court conclude that Islam is a political system, or an ideology, not a system of belief that qualifies as a religion entitled to the protection of federal law. See Amended Complaint at 8 (Sept. 22, 2010) (alleging that the County failed to investigate whether the ICM intended to promote the ‘political practice of ‘Jihad’ or ‘establish a caliphate’). However, if Rutherford County had adopted this approach, or were the County to adopt this approach in the future, the County would risk violating RLUIPA. As noted above, RLUIPA prohibits local government from using land-use regulations to discriminate against religious institutions, to treat them on less than equal terms than similarly situated secular land uses, or to substantially burden religious exercise. 42 U.S.C. 2000cc, et seq.”
The DOJ filing states “‘Religious assemb[lies] or institution[s]‘ protected by RLUIPA include mosques or Islamic center of the type that ICM propose to construct in Rutherford County… [citing numerous legal precedents and the Constitution's First Amendment]…There is, therefore, no question that the ICM’s proposed Rutherford County Islamic center and mosque constitutes a religious assembly under RLUIPA. Failing to treat mosques as a category equally with churches as a category in application of its zoning laws would be a facial violation of Section 2(b)(2) of RLUIPA. The Plaintiffs claim the County should have investigated the substantive beliefs of the ICM before approving its plans to construct an Islamic center and mosque. See Amended Complaint at 8,11 (Sept. 22, 2010). They maintain that the failure to undertake such an investigation creates a risk that the ICM’s Islamic activities and beliefs will promote ‘Jihad and terrorism.’ See id. There is no suggestion that the County has a practice of undertaking such investigations with respect to applications by other religious assemblies or institutions. The County thus acted properly in affording ICM the same treatment that it would have given any religious assembly or institution. For the foregoing reasons, the United States respectfully requests that this Court conclude (1) that Islam is a religion entitled to protection under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and (2) that the ICM’s proposed Islamic center and mosque is a place of religious assembly engaged in religious exercise within the meaning of the RLUIPA.”
The group seeking legal action to stop the ICM mosque expansion has told the press that they view America is a “Christian nation,” that Islam is “un-American,” and that any supporters of religious freedom must be “socialists.” According to WSMV News, “The complaint asks for a temporary restraining order on the construction and that the court void the approval given to the mosque.”
Photo Below: Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney Testified on Sharia Law (Photo: The Murfreesboro Post/C. Grantham)
In September, conservative activist Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy
traveled from Washington DC to the Murfreesboro court to speak about Islam and about Sharia law as an “enemy threat doctrine” before the Rutherford County Court. Anti-mosque plaintiff attorney Joe Brandon, Jr. has questioned whether the Rutherford County Planning Association would have “approved this [the ICM mosque expansion] for Osama bin Laden.” The Daily News Journal also reported that attorney Brandon told the court that “Shariah law is jihad… We believe there is a direct connection to the ICM (Islamic Center of Murfreesboro).”
The Murfreesboro Post has been covering the court debate, stating “Plaintiffs in the lawsuit contend through witness testimony that the proposed Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM) does not meet the standard of a religious meeting place. Plaintiffs argued in court area Muslims want to institute Sharia Law in Murfreesboro and say Demosi and county officials should have investigated the political agenda of Muslim members before approving mosque site plans.” The court proceedings have also been covered by the Murfreesboro area Daily News Journal (DNJ) and by WSMV.
The Daily News Journal reported that the September court hearings were to resume “then resume at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 20 with his schedule open to continue it Oct. 21 and Oct. 22.”
Anti-Islam Campaigns in Tennessee
Arson and vandalism against Islamic mosques and property has repeatedly occurred in the Nashville area and cities in Tennessee.
At the end of August 2010, an arsonist attacked construction equipment of those building the mosque expansion in Murfreesboro, and gunshots were also heard during the attack.
Photo Below: Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office and ATF employees investigate apparent arson at the future site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro Saturday. (Photo: John A. Gillis/Daily News Journal)
Before construction, Islamic Center of Murfreesboro signs vandalized in January 2010 and June 2010.
Tennessee has been the target of anti-Islamic activism, including the firebombing of the Islamic Center of Columbia in Maury county, Tennessee; one of those responsible for the mosque firebombing, Jonathan Edward Stone, was sentenced to prison in April 2010. Columbia is 40 miles southwest of Nashville, and 49 miles away from Murfreesboro. The Columbia mosque was burned down by Molotov cocktails by terrorists, at least two of the men arrested were linked to the racist “Christian Identity” movement.
Photos Below: Islamic Center of Columbia in Maury, Tennessee Firebombed – Less Than An Hour From Murfreesboro (Photos: TIRCC)
Photos Below: Al-Farooq Mosque, in Nashville, Tennessee Vandalized in February 2010 (Photos: TIRCC)
Image Below: Tennessee Anti-Mosque Campaign by “Former Muslims United” (Photo: YouTube)
Leader Nonie Darwish Says “This is just the beginning of a national campaign”
In Chattanooga, Tennessee on July 14, 2010, gubernatorial candidate and current Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey told voters that he questioned whether Islam was a religion. The Tennessee Tea Party has invited Stop Islamization of America (SIOA)’s Executive Director to speak, and Tennessee Congressional candidates Lou Ann Zelenik and George Erdel sought to prevent the Murfreesboro mosque from being built. One key connection to many of these politicians is their links to Tennessee Tea Party groups, by Ron Ramsey, by Lou Ann Zelenik, and by self-described “Tea Party Democrat” George Erdel. As the Stop Islamization of America (SIOA)’s Pamela Geller wrote about her plans to rally the Tennessee Tea Party in May 2010, “they ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Photo Below: Tennessee Tea Party Politicians Against Islam and Mosque: Congressional Candidate Lou Ann Zelenik, Congressional Candidate George Erdel, Gubernatorial Candidate Ron Ramsey (left to right)
Photo Below: Tennessee Tea Party Event in May 2010 – Stop Islamization of America’s Pamela Geller Speaks Against Islam to Tea Party Participants (Photo: YouTube)
Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) supports freedom of religion, freedom of worship, and freedom of conscience for all people, as supported by America’s Constitution and our Universal Human Rights. We respect freedom of expression for all as well, which extends to all, whether we like it or agree with it or not. But our group condemns the efforts to deny religious freedom by groups using intimidation tactics, bullying, and other efforts to undermine the legal rights of all to religious freedom in America.
We urge all Americans to look into their hearts, and reject hatred in their hearts, reject contempt in their hearts, and join us in respecting our fellow human beings so that we can learn to understand one another and trust one another again. We urge all Americans to be responsible for equality and liberty. We believe all Americans can recognize this as inherent in our national identity and national conscience.
But freedom of religion and worship is not just a worthy and noble goal to pursue to show pluralism and respect to others.
It is a United States Constitutional mandate and federal law. The United States of America as a people and as a government has a Constitution and has federal law, which codifies American commitment to equality and liberty.
The Religious Land Use Act federal law exists to ensure equal protection of people of all religions across America to prevent local groups that seek to bully or use zoning laws to discriminate against others from practicing their freedom of worship and building a house of worship. The law does not exist just for those we like or those like the majority. The law does not exist just for those we agree with or even find agreeable. The law exists for all Americans – without caveat, without reservation, without exception. The law is the law.
We support equal law for all Americans. We urge the federal government to enforce this federal law and to take aggressive action against all those who seek to defy the law, in any way.
We urge others to SUPPORT OUR CALL for the United States President Obama and the United States Department of Justice to support our Constitution and federal law. Sign our petition on behalf of this and show your support as Americans for their actions and defense of the law of the land – for all people, without exception.
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