Judge Rescinds Approval For Tennessee Mosque Construction Permit

Construction site at the Mufreesboro mosque

The congregants of a planned Murfreesboro, Tennessee, mosque must have felt a sense of relief last fall when they broke ground on an expansion of their house or worship without any incident. Leading up to the planned expansion, the congregation faced an arson attack and accusations by the mosque expansion’s legal challengers that the practice of Islam was “pure sedition.”

What’s worse, Tennessee officialdom and national political figurues had flirted with some of the bigoted arguments against the construction. Tennessee’s Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R) suggested Islam might be “cult,” and the country sheriff brought in Islamophobic speakers on the topic. Then-GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain declared that “this isn’t an innocent mosque,” arguing with his usual befuddling logic that the construction was “an infringement and an abuse of our freedom of religion,” and that Americans “have a right” to deny other people the right to build places of worship.

But with the groundbreaking in September, the controversy seemed to have passed. Until yesterday, that is. That’s when further construction was thrown into question by a ruling from a local judge that the mosque’s building permits were not valid because notifications about a public hearing on the construction did not reach a wide enough audience. That, wrote the judge, Chancellor Robert Corlew, violated a state law requiring “adequate public notice.” He wrote in his ruling:

Without publication of the issues of business to be discussed at an otherwise routine meeting, citizens may be lulled into the mind set that only routine matters will be raised at a meeting, when suddenly a matter which is to them of earthshaking importance suddenly comes forth.

But county attorney Josh McCreary, who is defending the building permit, contended that the “earthshaking importance” of the building permit was only raised after the lawsuit against the permit. “In this instance, everything they are relying on to prove this is a matter of pervasive public importance came after the lawsuit was filed,” he said.

Opponents of the mosque have already declared victory. “Justice is served,” the lead plaintiff, Kevin Fisher, wrote to the AP in an e-mail. But it’s not clear that’s the case. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) already asked that, should new permits not be forthcoming, the Justice Department step in and “intervene in this case to support the religious rights of Tennessee Muslims.”

Furthermore, the Tennessean newspaper reported today that construction on the mosque expansion might not be ground to a halt by the judicial ruling. Noting that the judge did not order that construction stop, the Tennessean reported that the county that houses the mosque does not plan on revoking the permits:

Rutherford County has no immediate plans revoke the building permit for an embattled Murfreesboro mosque.

“The county is going to look at all the possibilities,” said Jim Cope, attorney for Rutherford County. “This could take weeks.”