Justice Department TRO expedites permit for Murfreesboro Mosque in time for Ramadan

For Muslims, Ramadan begins at sundown this evening. Yesterday, a Tennessee federal district court judge issued a 14-day temporary restraining order (full text) in United States v. Rutherford County, Tennessee, (MD TN, July 18, 2012) requiring county officials to expedite the issuance of an occupancy permit for a controversial mosque in Murfreesboro (TN). The TRO was issued on the same day the lawsuit was filed. The Islamic Center’s Memorandum of Law in support of its application for a TRO in parallel litigation outlines the lengthy legal battle that has been waged over the mosque. In 2011, the Tennessee Chancery Court dismissed challenges to the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission’s approval of building plans for the mosque, but allowed plaintiffs to move ahead with their claim that the county violated the Open Meetings Act when it publicized the Planning Commission meeting only in the Murfreesboro Post. That conclusion was based on the perceived importance of the matter to be discussed at the meeting. (See prior posting.) Five days later the state court refused to require a halt to ongoing construction of the mosque, but barred the county from issuing an occupancy permit. Yesterday the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit (full text of complaint) in federal district court alleging that Rutherford County, in complying with the Chancery Court’s order, violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. (DOJ press release). In issuing the TRO, the court said that the heightened notice requirement imposed by the state court’s interpretation of the Open Meetings Act substantially burdens the Islamic Center’s free exercise of religion without a compelling governmental interest.