Justice Dept. Enters Murfreesboro Mosque Controversy - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Justice Dept. Enters Murfreesboro Mosque Controversy

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by Mark Bellinger

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Rutherford County has a new ally defending an Islamic group's right to build a mosque.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed papers on Monday supporting the county's decision.

Landowners who live near the mosque are challenging that decision in Chancery Court. The Justice Department filed the paper work as a friend of the court. It's something the judge can consider when making a decision.

The land has been cleared. The site for the proposed Islamic Center and mosque is ready for construction.

Landowners near the site have filed a lawsuit trying to stop it. A Chancery Court judge is in the middle of hearing the case.

"We want Rutherford County to understand they might be in violation of federal laws if they deny the individuals wanting to build that mosque," U.S. Attorney Jerry E. Martin said.

Martin has filed paperwork in Chancery Court supporting the mosque. He said the decision to get involved came after reading court transcripts and listening to questions fired at a Rutherford County commissioner.

Attorneys for the landowners questioned County Commissioner Robert Peay about whether the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was a religious organization. Martin said the Justice Department wants to set that record straight.

"To put it simply plaintiff's implications that Islam is not a recognized religion by the United States is wrong, and it is not supported by any authority what so ever," Martin said. "The suit filed by landowners claims the county violated their rights when commissioners failed to determine if the Islamic Center was protected under the First Amendment."

The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized Islam as one of the world's major religions deserving the First Amendment protections affordable to Christians and Jews.

The Justice Department supports the county's approval of the site plans and the authorization to build the mosque on the site. That support assumes the county followed the rules when making those decisions.

The hearing to decide if landowners can stop construction of the mosque resumes in Chancery Court on Wednesday.

Email: mbellinger@newschannel5.com

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