Written by Don Byrd
There were still a few voices expressing opposition, but New Jersey’s Bernards Township Committee finally, and unanimously, voted this week to approve construction of a mosque. The move comes two years after the committee voted unanimously to reject the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge’s application for a construction permit. That denial initiated a pair of federal lawsuits, including one filed against the township by the Department of Justice under federal religious liberty law, culminating in a judge’s ruling in favor of the Islamic Society and a $3.25 million settlement, the terms of which required the construction approval.
NJ Advance Media reports on the scene at the vote:
More than 75 people gathered Tuesday night in a Ridge High School auditorium to listen as the committee gave the green light to the 4,252-square-foot mosque.
At least five people, some of whom live near the proposed mosque, spoke before the board to express their continued concerns over parking, fencing and public health issues, among others, with the mosque site on Church Street. Several were applauded.
Before voting, planning board member Kippy Piedici said she found parts of the settlement problematic. She said, however, that “approving the application far outweighs the cost to the township for further litigation.”
Indeed. The financial cost incurred by citizens in defending such unlawful discrimination by our local governments can be enormous, and is one in a long line of many sad repercussions from needless disputes like this one. But when government officials make politically charged decisions that exploit and exacerbate fear along religious divides, the cost to a community’s social fabric and spiritual well-being often far exceeds dollars and cents. Here’s hoping this week’s vote can usher in a period of healing for the people of Bernards Township, NJ.
Meanwhile, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) remains a powerful and important law that protects against discrimination in the context of zoning decisions.
To learn more about RLUIPA, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s RLUIPA resource page.