Federal Judge Orders Tennessee To Stop Blocking Muslims From Worshiping In New Mosque

Construction site at the Mufreesboro mosque

Just in time for the holy month of Ramadan, a federal judge has ruled that Tennessee county officials need to stop blocking worshipers from occupying their newly-built mosque, overruling a county judge’s order that was preventing the mosque from opening.

The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro sued Rutherford County, TN yesterday, asking the district judge for an emergency order to allow the mosque to open its doors to worshipers before Ramadan begins at sundown today. Federal prosecutors also filed a similar lawsuit in Nashville, alleging violations of the federal law that guarantees freedom of religion and equal protection under the Constitution.

The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty and a local civil rights attorney represented the congregation’s case. More than 100 religious leaders from varying faith traditions also signed onto a letter drafted by the Beckett Fund to support the mosque . A statement to the federal court explained that Rutherford County’s discrimination against the Muslim community is both hypocritical and harmful:

If [the mosque] were a Christian church, it would have been granted a certificate of occupancy and would be worshipping in its new facility today…The discriminatory treatment of the mosque also sends a powerful message to the Muslim community that they are second-class citizens, not worthy of the same rights or protection as Christian churches.

The Islamic center’s legal troubles first began in 2010, when Rutherford County residents filed a lawsuit alleging that Islam was not a real religion, but rather a “seditious cult” that intended to impose Islamic religious law on the U.S. government. Although that case was thrown out, a local judge picked the fight up again this May and ruled that the mosque’s building permits were invalid because the congregation had not provided “adequate public notice” of the construction. But thanks to U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin’s ruling yesterday in favor of the Murfreesboro congregation’s emergency petition — ultimately determining that the local judge could not hold the Murfreesboro mosque to the separate standard he had created in his May ruling — congregants will be able to worship in their newly-constructed mosque.

The resistance to the Murfreesboro mosque is not the only recent example of Islamophobia in the state of Tennessee. Tennessee Republicans are currently circulating a petition condemning their governor for hiring Muslim employees, and the Rutherford County sheriff’s office brought in an anti-Muslim speaker to train police officers about Muslim culture earlier this year.