Friday, June 1, 2012

Mosque construction ongoing, lawyers debate ruling

Construction is continuing on a new mosque outside of Murfreesboro as attorneys debate the implications of a judge's ruling that voided approval of the site plan.

Joe Brandon Jr., one of the attorneys for the mosque opponents, said he believes the ruling means construction on the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro must halt. On Wednesday, Brandon filed an order with the court that included an injunction to that effect. The order does not become final until signed by the judge.

On Thursday, County Attorney Jim Cope said he will contest the order because he does not believe it accurately reflects the judge's ruling.

"The judge didn't mention an injunction," Cope said. "If (Brandon) wants an injunction, he needs to bring a lawsuit against the mosque."

The lawsuit named county boards and officials as defendants, but not the Islamic center.

Cope said he plans to file his objection to Brandon's order, along with a competing order, before the weekend. The judge can then choose to sign one of the orders, write his own order or hold a hearing to resolve the issue.

Cope said the county has not yet decided whether it will appeal the judge's ruling that officials provided insufficient public notice for the May 2010 Planning Commission meeting where the mosque was approved.

No public hearing was required to approve the site plan for the 52,000 square-foot mosque and auxiliary buildings, which was presented and voted on at a single commission meeting. The same would not have been true of plans for a large commercial building, but Rutherford County has special laws in place to facilitate the approval of houses of worship.

County attorneys argued at trial that officials did all that was required of them by law to advertise the meeting when they placed an announcement in a free weekly newspaper, the Murfreesboro Post, with no agenda - the same process used to announce all county meetings.

Chancellor Robert Corlew's Tuesday ruling, while implying that the process might be sufficient for routine matters, stated that it was insufficient for the mosque approval given the intense public interest it has garnered.

Mosque opponents have held rallies to protest the new building and accused members of the congregation of having ties to terrorists, although they have provided no proof.

Local Muslims counter that they have lived, worked and worshipped in the county for decades without causing problems for anyone.

The controversy has made national and international news.

Construction has been ongoing over the year-and-a-half the court case has dragged on, and the main worship space is nearly complete. The new building will replace the mosque's current space in an industrial park, which the congregation has outgrown.

By Travis Loller, The Associated Press

Source: The Kingsport Times-News

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