In Tenn. mosque fight, religious freedom trumps Islamophobia

June 19, 2014

A Davidson County judge Thursday upheld a decision by the Rutherford County Board of Zoning Appeals allowing burials at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro site.

Senior Judge Paul Summers, who heard the matter after all local judges recused themselves, dismissed a case filed by a group of residents opposed to the county-approved cemetery just off Veals Road at Bradyville Pike.

“The Rutherford County Board of Zoning Appeals did not act illegally, arbitrarily, or capriciously by approving the special use exception permit for the cemetery,” the judge concluded.

The judge found that the petitioners, led by Bonnie Golczynski, showed “no distinct and palpable injury” and, therefore, had no standing.

Summers also ruled that the BZA complied with adequate notice requirements for the Open Meetings Act for December 2013 and January 2014 meetings. He concluded that a special use permit issued for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro is valid and denied the petitioner’s request for the BZA to rehear the matter.

In addition, Summers dismissed all other claims of the petitioners and assessed them court costs.

Opponents contended, among other things, that the cemetery site is too close to nearby homes and sits in a low-lying area prone to flooding. They also say it will create extra traffic congestion in the area.

Lou Ann Zelenik, a spokeswoman for the petitioners, said she researched five years of BZA decisions and found that the board had turned down other requests because of concern about flooding.

Initial planning commission approval in 2010 led to a protracted lawsuit in which mosque opponents challenged whether the county provided adequate public notice of the planning commission’s vote. Chancellor Robert Corlew ultimately ruled against the county, but a federal judge reversed his decision and allowed the ICM to occupy its building.

What’s heartening about this saga, however, is how local government officials stood up for religious freedom. Despite strong public opposition, members of the county planning commission voted to treat the building application of the Muslim community like applications from any other religious community.

That took courage. At the height of the conflict, political candidates and anti-Muslim activists worked hard to whip up opposition to the Islamic Center in Murfreesboro and beyond. Even televangelist Pat Robertson weighed in, suggesting that county officials may have fallen victim to Muslims’ “ability to bribe folks” and warning of a future Muslim takeover of the city council.

Opponents Of Islamic Center Of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Have Case Declined By U.S. Supreme Court

June 4, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For years, opponents of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro vowed to take their legal fight to shut down the mosque all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

That fight ended Monday (June 2), when the nation’s highest court declined to hear their case.

The four-year conflict over construction of the mosque, which opened in 2012, brought national attention to this Bible Belt city of 112,000 about 30 miles south of Nashville.

Hundreds marched in protest after Rutherford County officials approved plans for the mosque in 2010. Televangelist Pat Robertson labeled the Islamic center a “mega mosque” and claimed Muslims were taking over Murfreesboro. An arsonist set fire to construction equipment on the building site.

Mosque opponents eventually filed a suit against Rutherford County, seeking to block construction of the worship space.

On the surface, the fight was over the minutiae of Tennessee’s sunshine, or public notice, laws. Mosque foes claimed local officials failed to give adequate notice of a meeting where plans for the mosque’s construction were approved.

But a thriving anti-Muslim movement in Tennessee fueled the fight. Mosque foes asserted that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom did not apply to the mosque. In court, Joe Brandon Jr., a lawyer for mosque foes, said Islam is not a religion, and he argued that the mosque was a threat to the community.

Initially, a local judge ruled for the mosque foes and ordered a halt to mosque construction. But a federal court quickly overruled that decision, paving the way for the mosque to open in 2012. A state appeals court also later overturned the lower court decision.

Local Muslims, many of whom had worshipped in the community for years, found themselves having to defend their faith and their status as American citizens at the trial.

Members of the Islamic Center found help in local interfaith groups and other local leaders who rallied to their assistance. More than 100 local religious leaders signed a letter supporting the mosque.

Foes of the mosque haven’t given up yet. A group of plaintiffs recently filed suit to block local Muslims from building a cemetery on the mosque grounds.

According to the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, a ruling on the cemetery lawsuit is expected in mid-June.

Christian Leader, Pat Robertson Blasts, Comedy Show: Tebow Skit Fueled By ‘Anti-Christian Bigotry’

Televangelist Pat Robertson was not laughing at a skit on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” last weekend that included a Jesus character, played by Jason Sudeikis, telling pro football player and outspoken Christian Tim Tebow to “take it down a notch.”

Robertson, who’s quick to criticize Hollywood entertainment and pop culture, said the comedy sketch is part of “the anti-Christian bigotry in this country that’s just disgusting.”

“If this had been a Muslim country and they had done that and had Muhammad doing that stuff, you would have found bombs being thrown off and bodies on the street,” he said.

Robertson made his comments on the Christian Broadcast Network, where he’s been a regular fixture for decades. The video snippet was first posted on Mediaite.

“Tebow is an example, and I think he is a wonderful human being,” Robertson said. “We need more religious faith in our society. We’re losing our moral compass in our nation and this man has been placed in a unique position and I applaud him. God bless him.”

Pat Robertson Claimed That Islam “At Its Core, Teaches Violence”

On the July 14 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s The 700 Club, host Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition of America, blurred the distinction between radical Islamists and the Muslim community at large, claiming that Islam instructs its followers to commit acts of terrorism: ROBERTSON: Don’t you feel it rather interesting that every time you have a story about terrorism, it is linked to Muslim extremists? You don’t hear somebody, “Christian extremist killing film producers, Christian extremists blowing up trains.” It just doesn’t happen. But it’s Muslim extremists and, ladies and gentlemen, Islam, at least at its core, teaches violence. It’s there in the Quran in clear, bold statements. Well over 100 verses dealing with violence against infidels, and that is what they’re taught. They’re also taught to sacrifice themselves in jihad against infidels to gain paradise. It is part of the teaching of that faith. And I know people so reluctant to say, “Lets not identify those terrorists with these wonderful people.” Well, yes, they may be wonderful people, but this is what that faith teaches, and those who believe it sincerely in their hearts are those that think Osama bin Laden is their great hero. And I think we need to recognize that. Political correctness says that you’re not supposed to recognize this, but it just happens to be the truth. Every story, you see it over and over again, Muslim extremists blew up trains, Muslim extremists assassinated film producers. Muslim extremists blew up a crowded shopping center in Netanya [Israel]. Muslim extremists, it’s always Muslims, and that’s where it comes from, it’s the breeding ground. And then it’s radical clerics who incite this kind of violence, and it’s time we recognize it and begin to deal with it.