The U.S. Attorney’s Office wants Rutherford County to know that Islam is, in fact, a religion as recognized by the federal government.
Following statements made in a lawsuit disputing the approval of a Rutherford County mosque , the U.S. Department of Justice felt the need to chime in on that distinction as well as whether a mosque should be protected as place of religious activity.
After reviewing the plaintiffs’ claims, U.S. Attorney Jerry E. Martin for the Middle District of Tennessee said, “We concluded that we could not sit idly by while assertions implicating the rights of certain citizens and residents of Rutherford County were indiscriminately made.”
Martin’s office and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief Monday morning in the lawsuit filed Sept. 16 by a group of Rutherford County landowners, alleging that county officials violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.
The plaintiffs later amended the lawsuit to claim their due process rights were violated because the county planning commission and board of commissioners didn’t determine if the First Amendment protected a mosque and Islamic center.
In the brief, the federal government states an attorney questioned the county commission about whether Islam was a religion protected by the First Amendment and whether a mosque could be considered a religious place of worship.
Martins said the federal government’s role at this point was to clarify its position on Islam to prevent an improper ruling by the Rutherford County Chancery Court.
“Today’s filing is straightforward. It simply points out that all three branches of government have repeatedly recognized Islam as a religion.”
Martin later added, “To put it simply, [the] plaintiffs’ implication that Islam is not a recognized religion by the United States is wrong and it is not supported by any authority whatsoever.”
Furthermore, a mosque is a place of religious assembly and should be given equal protection under the law just as any other religion’s place of worship should.
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 specifically forbids local governments from using land regulations to prevent the construction of religious places of worship.
Martin cautioned that Rutherford County could violate federal law by denying a construction permit based on the improper determination that Islam is not a religion.
He added that while the federal government hasn’t actually intervened in the lawsuit — the briefing simply reflects the government’s recognition of Islam — it would do so if that action became necessary in the future.
The brief states the government has particular interested in the Murfreesboro mosque case in that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation continue to investigate a fire at the mosque’s construction site.
It further states that U.S. prosecutors convicted three men for violating the Church Arson Prevention Act after they set fire to an Islamic center in Columbia, Tenn.
Martin said there had not been any determination on whether or not the Murfreesboro mosque fire constitutes a hate crime.