MURFREESBORO – A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order to allow the Muslim community in Tennessee to use a new mosque for worshipping during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
"We look forward to celebrating Ramadan with our neighbors," Imam Osama Bahloul, leader of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was quoted as saying by Reuters.
District Chief Judge Todd Campbell ordered the Rutherford County Wednesday, July 18, to conduct a building inspection that is expected to clear the way for Muslims to use the new mosque in Murfreesboro for worshipping.
"If everything is in order, the mosque can use the new building for worship by the start of Ramadan," said Luke Goodrich, the Washington-based attorney who represented the mosque.
Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, is expected to start in North America on Friday, July 20.
Goodrich expected the mosque would pass the inspection and be able to open its doors.
"It's a great victory for the Constitution and a great victory for people of all faiths."
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, backed by a Justice Department lawsuit, to allow Muslims to use the new building for worshipping.
The verdict, however, is a temporary reprieve because another court hearing on the matter will be held in 14 days.
A county judge in May had barred Muslims from using the nearly-complete facility because he said the local planning commission had not given the public enough notice before it met in 2010 to grant a building permit.
The court battle was part of a long-running local fight over the mosque in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles from Nashville.
Since plans for the new mosque to replace a 30-year-old facility were approved by local authorities in 2010, opponents have tried to stop it.
Opponents have argued that Islam is not a religion protected by the US Constitution, and that the mosque would promote Shari`ah.
Muslims said they had no other option but to resort to the judiciary to preserve their right for religious freedom.
"We have avoided litigation as long as we possibly could," imam Bahloul said.
"But this lawsuit appeared to be the only way we could use our new mosque by the start of Ramadan."
Wednesday’s lawsuit was an effort by Tennessee Muslims to circumvent the May judge ruling that stopped the construction of the mosque and the long wait for the appeal.
Besides asking a judge to allow mosque members to use their building, the suit seeks an unspecified figure for damages and court costs, according to The New York Times.
The lawsuit asserts that Rutherford County illegally discriminated against the mosque by denying its members the right to practice their religion.
It says the mosque was forced to comply with requirements different from those applied to a Christian church or other religious building because its members are Muslim in violation of the Constitution and a federal civil rights statute.
“What the judge did was wrong in that he held the mosque to a much higher standard than any other institution applying for a land-use permit in Rutherford County,” said Eric Rassbach, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm that helped file the lawsuit on behalf of the mosque.
“This case is pretty bad in the sense that usually you get neighbors who come in and complain about noise, traffic and congestion even if there is an underlying issue like we don’t like Orthodox Jews or Buddhists in our midst,” he said.
“Here it is just blatantly about not wanting Muslims.”
Mosques have been facing fierce opposition across the United States recently.
At least 35 mosque projects — from Mississippi to Wisconsin — have found foes who battle to stop them from seeing light citing different pretexts, including traffic concerns and fear of terrorism.
Even more, some mosques were vandalized including a 2011 Wichita mosque arson case for which a $5,000 reward is being offered.
In multicultural New York, a proposed mosque near Ground Zero site has snowballed into a national public and political debate, with opponents arguing that the Muslim building would be an insult to the memory of the 9/11 victims.
Advocates, however, say that the mosque would send a message of tolerance in 9/11-post America.