Department of Justice to investigate denial of New Jersey mosque

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The site where the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge proposed to build a mosque. Photo by Meghan Shapiro Hodgin | NJ.com

The site where the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge proposed to build a mosque. Photo by Meghan Shapiro Hodgin | NJ.com

NEWARK, N.J. — The U.S. Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the decision by Bernards Township authorities to deny a Muslim community’s application to build a mosque in the township, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Newark has confirmed.

The investigation will look into whether the township violated the rights of members of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge over its prolonged, and ultimately failed, application to build a mosque on Church Street, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The department’s Civil Rights Division is tasked with enforcing federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, religion, familial status and national origin.

The Islamic society and its president, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, last week filed a federal lawsuit against the township and 15 members of the Township Committee and the Planning Board, charging that they manufactured reasons to deny the application — even changing the zoning ordinance to make building new houses of worship difficult, if not impossible.


READ: Religious liberty bill passes Georgia Legislature


Among other things, the lawsuit called for appointment of a monitor to oversee compliance with all federal laws in all committee and planning board decisions for five years.

A lawyer for the society, Adeel A. Mangi, said he would not comment on the investigation.

Mayor Carol Bianchi issued a statement saying that the township will cooperate with investigators from the justice department and the U.S. attorney’s office.

“I know our Planning Board members and they are honest and ethical,” she said. “I trust they made their decisions based solely on land use considerations.”

The suit was filed about three months after township planners unanimously rejected the proposal to build the mosque, which was the subject of 39 public hearings over a four-year period.

The lawsuit says the society spent more than $450,000 on the proposal.

During a ceremony to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Mayor Jimmy Davis blasted the hatred in Bayonne toward the Islamic community.

An artist's rendering of the proposed mosque. Photo courtesy of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP

An artist’s rendering of the proposed mosque. Photo courtesy of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP

Planners cited a lack of details regarding parking, traffic safety and buffer zones bordering the site’s residential neighbors.

The society sought to build the mosque on a 4.3-acre tract in an area where houses of worship are permitted uses, its suit says. It was proposed to be 4,252 square feet, or the size of a large house, the lawsuit says.

However, the proposal encountered strong opposition in the township, with some residents saying the mosque could be a haven for terrorists, the lawsuit says. A citizens group, Bernards Township Citizens for Responsible Development, opposed the proposed mosque on public safety and land use concerns.

Planners frequently agreed with “one unreasonable and picayune land use objection after another” raised by opponents, creating a “Kafkaesque” scenario for what should have been a routine approval, the lawsuit says.

Along with a federal monitor, the society said in the lawsuit that it is seeking judicial orders to overturn the denial of its application, invalidation of restrictive sections of the zoning ordinance and compensatory damages.

(Tim Darragh writes for Advance Media)

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  • Jim Johnson

    I hope this isn’t true. I am an atheist but support freedom of religion within the boundaries of our constitution. Christians by virtue of being the majority have falsely assumed that our government is Christian. It isn’t. It is blind to lawful practices of all religions and this must be understood. Fear and hatred have no place especially within Christianity.

  • yoh

    Nobody should have to care about the fear and hatred within Christianity. Fear and hatred have no place in the function of government. Especially since we have a government which not only cannot discriminate against religious beliefs but cannot endorse any given one itself.

    I have yet to see where the town council has acted in good faith or had a legitimate concern here. This is sectarian discrimination in its most obvious form.

  • Dennis Stewart

    How does a so called religion who calls for the overthrow of the Western world not considered a threat to the “general welfare” whose protection is the principal role of government? Special interest welfare is not general welfare. Without discrimination there would be no civilization. Christians are being slaughtered by the thousands in the middle east via beheading. Isn’t that discrimination? We were founded by Christians on Christian morality. Christian morality doesn’t expect Christian suicide. The only time any so called minority can claim discrimination is when the so called majority refuses to allow the so called minority to play by the rules set by the majority given that majorities always set the rules – except if you are a pampered negative infectious agitator favored by the most deceitful and dangerous central government in the world. By the way 70% to 80% of the USA identifies as Christian.

  • yoh

    Your opinions on a religion do not constitute an excuse for discriminating against them. Every bigot claims their hatred has a basis in fact. It means nothing. “Because they’re Muslim” is never going to be a valid reason for attacking free exercise of religion.

    As for Christian morality as the foundation of our country, that is a load of garbage. You can’t point to anything specific to your faith which relates to our government, laws or system.

    You are more bent on the destruction of our nation’s and it’s principles of liberties for all than anyone building a mosque. You want to betray our nation in service of your faith. You expect rights only for Christians and nobody else. Guess what? This was never a Christian nation. If it ever becomes one, it will mark the death of everything of value of our nation.

  • James Benware

    The only reason that this is happening is because we have a Muslim president that is allowing it to happen. This nation was founded on Christian principles and has gone astray because of these special interest groups.Why does 1-2% 0f the population have the right to dictate what the other 98% does. I am glad this town took a stand and said NO. We need more towns, cities, states standing up and saying no, no, no.

  • yoh

    No we do not. The only reason this is happening is because some well connected bigots have no appreciation of our 1st amendment and think that ita OK to deny rights to people on the basis of their religion.

    What is specifically Christian ablution our democratic government. Please give me details. People who claim the US is founded on “Christian principles” are theocratic 1iars who have no understanding of history or religious freedom.

    Evidently might makes right is a “Christian principle” and liberties be damned. The bigotry of the majority is not cause for attacking the inalienable rights of any % of our population.

    Seeking to attack it’s basic liberties in service of sectarian hatred. Shame on you.

  • yoh

    No we do not. The only reason this is happening is because some well connected bigots have no appreciation of our 1st amendment and think that ita OK to deny rights to people on the basis of their religion.

    What is specifically Christian ablution our democratic government. Please give me details. People who claim the US is founded on “Christian principles” are theocratic types who have no understanding of history or religious freedom.

    Evidently might makes right is a “Christian principle” and liberties be damned. The bigotry of the majority is not cause for attacking the inalienable rights of any % of our population.

    Seeking to attack it’s basic liberties in service of sectarian hatred. Shameful attitudes.

  • Yoh: We Americans – you included – are doomed because we, the most tolerant of people on earth go overboard to accommodate those who will NOT (NEVER) tolerate you and I. The teachings of Islam instruct all of its adherents to destroy our culture and our society just as the non-Moslem society of Egypt has been destroyed. The COPTS of Egypt worked at accommodating Islam and working with them, and the COPTS are now on the verge of extinction in Egypt and the COPTS of the Sudan have been eliminated from the face of the earth.

  • yoh

    So all you got is “I hate Moozlums”

    There is never going to be a valid argument here that involves your feelings for a particular religion. Its an irrelevancy to their right to erect houses of worship within the confines of valid land use regulations.

    I don’t give a flying cr@p what you think about Islam nor would I ever have to. Freedom of religion is not conditional on people liking a faith or its adherents. Your contempt for the concept of it is more damaging to our nation than anything you perceive Islam as capable. of.

    As Ben Franklin said, those who sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither.