Courtroom interior_newWritten by Don Byrd

A federal judge in Tennessee has issued a temporary restraining order (read the ruling here – pdf) halting a state court’s order prohibiting a mosque in Murfreesboro from opening because the County Commission that granted the building permit violated the state’s open meeting laws in the process. The Islamic Center filed suit today in an effort to open the facility in time for Ramadan which begins at sundown tomorrow, and the Justice Department followed with a suit of its own (pdf) alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). See the Justice Department’s press release on the filing here.

The Islamic Center’s cause rallied numerous religious and civil liberty advocates, including the Baptist Joint Committee, who joined together today in signing an open letter supporting the mosque.

We emphatically support the right of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro—on an equal basis with any other type of religious congregation—to build a house of worship in the City of Murfreesboro and to use its own property for religious exercise. We repeat: No congregation should have its right of religious liberty curtailed solely because some of its neighbors disapprove of its religious beliefs. Mosques must be respected and honored just as churches must be respected and honored.

Click here for the full text of the letter.

Open meeting laws are important and should be respected. But it appears in this case the open meeting complaint is being leveraged by opponents of Islam as an obstacle to a religious building that is surely protected by RLUIPA. If violations of open meeting requirements are taking place, they should be addressed, but not in a way that jeopardizes religious exercise clearly supported by federal law. The State Court Judge would have required heightened notice about the mosque permit meeting because it was controversial, but that requirement, District Judge Campbell ruled today, amounts to an unjustified burden on the religious exercise of the Islamic Center.