May 13, 2016
Issue: Religious Freedom
Leading Civil Rights and Religious Groups Partner to Support New Jersey Muslims’ Right to Worship
16 Groups file amicus brief in favor of Americans’ right to pray
Muslim Advocates led a coalition of 15 of its allies to file an amicus brief in support of a New Jersey Muslim community whose proposal to build a mosque was rejected by the Township of Bernards. The Township held 39 hearings on the proposal, creating roadblock after roadblock for the mosque. Despite the fact that the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (ISBR) responded to and complied with each request, the permit was ultimately denied.
The amicus brief, filed by leading civil rights and religious groups including the ACLU, Union for Reform Judaism, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Arab American Institute, and ColorofChange, supports the lawsuit by ISBR, which claims the Township’s decision to reject ISBR’s zoning permit application was discriminatory. ISBR argues that the Township used one standard for churches, and a different and more stringent standard for the mosque.
“Sadly, this case represents the struggle Muslim communities across the nation are increasingly facing due to anti-Muslim bigotry,” said Madihha Ahussain, Muslim Advocates staff attorney and lead for the Program to Counter Anti-Muslim Hate. “The Muslims in Basking Ridge deserve what every American is entitled to – the right to freely exercise their faith. Blocking a zoning permit for a mosque due to bigotry not only hurts the Muslims in Basking Ridge, it undermines the religious freedom of all Americans.”
Ali Chaudry, who served as the Bernards Mayor from 2004-2007 and has been a resident of the community for almost 40 years, initially purchased a plot of land designated for homes and houses of worship and applied for a permit to build a mosque where community members could congregate and send their children to Sunday school classes.
The congregation ensured that the mosque was designed to fit into the neighborhood and met all Township standards for houses of worship. The Township of Bernards, however, repeatedly made unreasonable demands on the mosque. Ultimately, the Township determined that the mosque should be held to a more stringent standard than churches, requiring more than double the number of parking spots than a church of the same size would require. Despite meeting Township demands and submitting a proposal with the increased number of parking spaces, ISBR’s application was still denied.
ISBR responded by filing a lawsuit against the Township and its officials in January 2016. The amicus brief was filed with a motion for leave to file amicus curiae brief.
To read the amicus brief filed today, click here.