NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A federal judge in Nashville issued a temporary restraining order that allows the Murfreesboro Mosque to go through the inspection process that will allow it to eventually open.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro filed a suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee against Rutherford County on Wednesday and asked the court to let worshippers into the building before the holy month of Ramadan starts at sundown Thursday.
The Justice Department also filed a lawsuit that led to an emergency hearing Wednesday afternoon.
"The United States Attorney's Office will zealously protect every citizen's right to worship and assemble," said Jerry E. Martin, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. "If we do not protect the rights of these congregants in Rutherford County, then the rights of all people are endangered and diminished," the U.S. Attorney went on to say.
In May, a Rutherford County judge in the spring overturned the county's approval of the mosque construction and this month ordered the county not to issue an occupancy permit for the 12,000-square-foot building. He found that the county didn't give adequate public notice for the meeting that approved the mosque.
The federal government argued before Judge Todd Campbell the state's ruling forced Rutherford County to impose a substantial burden on the mosque that violated the Religious Land Use
and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.
The Becket Fund for Religious Freedom represented the mosque during the emergency hearing. Its attorney argued the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was subjected to a different legal standard than other religious groups. He said that violated the center's first amendment rights and right to free exercise.
"We're glad to step up and help the mosque when they're being subjected to a double standard that wasn't being applied to any other religious group in the county," said Luke Goodrich from The Becket Fund.
The attorney representing Rutherford County said county leaders were only following the state judge's previous ruling.
"Our job is to follow the law, not to try to advocate for one side, or the other. We just want to make sure the process is done appropriately, fairly and legally," said attorney Jim Cope.
The Islamic Center's leader felt the judge's ruling sent a message Wednesday.
"It's a time where we can say to everyone you can look to us here in America and learn from us that people have the right to practice any religion they want," said Imam Ossama Bahloul.
The legal fight over the mosque has been ongoing since 2010.