SCOTUS roofWritten by Don Byrd

One of the saddest church-state stories in recent years came to a merciful end yesterday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal (pdf) brought by opponents of an Islamic Center’s construction in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

While the dispute over mosque construction in Manhattan near Ground Zero received more national attention, the Murfreesboro mosque suit was notable for its rancor and audacity. Opponents of the site even argued that Islam is not a religion under the meaning of the First Amendment.

Fortunately, the Center was able to be built, opening in 2012, but opponents pressed their legal claims as far as they could. Yesterday’s order closes the book on years of litigation over that community’s right to build a house of worship.

Religion News Service has more:

[Islamic Center member Saleh] Sbenaty said his faith in the American justice system never faltered.

“Today the Constitution prevailed,” he said. “It shows that the Constitution upholds the rights of those who are in the minority.”

Remziya Suleyman, director of policy and administration for the Nashville-based American Center for Outreach, said that a lot of good has come from conflict over the mosque. Local Muslims are more engaged in the community, she said, and have closer ties to local interfaith groups. They’ve also gotten a great deal of community support.

If there is one cause interfaith groups should be able to rally around, it should be the right to build houses of worship without fear of discrimination. Here, county officials did the right thing in permitting the Islamic Center. They should not have had to defend that action from those who would deny Muslims the right to worship comfortably in their community.

As a coalition of civil and religious liberty groups including the Baptist Joint Committee said in an open letter supporting the Murfreesboro Islamic Center 2 years ago, “No congregation should have its right of religious liberty curtailed solely because some of its neighbors disapprove of its religious beliefs.”