Islamic group sues NJ town over its refusal to allow a mosque in a former banquet hall

NEWARK, N.J. — An Islamic group has sued a suburban town it says engaged in religious discrimination by abruptly changing zoning regulations to prevent the opening of a mosque.
Members of the Al Falah Center and local residents filed suit Tuesday in federal court in Trenton against Bridgewater Township’s mayor, council and planning officials. “What should have been an uncomplicated approval of the application then foundered in a storm of anti-Muslim sentiment and hysteria,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also says the sudden zoning changes thwarted plans the group had been working on, with the township’s knowledge, to convert a closed banquet hall in a mostly residential area into a mosque and community center. It accuses town officials of bowing to pressure from protesters and an anti-mosque Internet campaign.

Town officials voted to change the rules for houses of worship, prohibiting them in residential zones unless they fronted on state highways, court papers say. The ruling affected only the mosque, the suit says, as 17 existing religious facilities in Bridgewater — several in residential areas — were allowed to remain. The suit seeks to block enforcement of the ordinance and allow the group’s application to be processed.