Written by Don Byrd

A pair of mosque construction applications, denied by government officials, have resulted a new investigation in New Jersey and new claims being filed in Virginia. Mosque advocates in both locations are expressing hope and optimism that the DOJ under the Trump Administration will be as active in enforcing the law in this cases as was the previous administration.

In Virginia, The Islamic Center of Culpeper filed claims under both the federal and state constitutions, as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The Justice Department previously filed suit under RLUIPA and the federal constitution. The plaintiffs explained the reason for adding a separate lawsuit in the Washington Post report:

“We have no indication or no reason to believe that the DOJ is going to take any different position or not vigorously defend this case,” said attorney Johnathan Smith of the legal advocacy group Muslim Advocates, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Islamic Center. “It’s our expectation that they would do so and our hope that they would do so.”

But, he said, the center is able to make claims under the state and federal Constitution that the Justice Department cannot. While both lawsuits argue ­Culpeper ran afoul of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the Islamic group contends that its rights were also violated under the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is reportedly investigating the denial of a mosque application in Bayonne, New Jersey. Bayonne Muslims, a nonprofit group attempting to gain permits for a new mosque to house their growing congregation, fell one vote short of approval by the local zoning board Monday. The NYTimes reports the vote followed a contentious hearing along religious lines.

[A] group of Muslims stood to pray at the opening of the zoning meeting. In response, a group of Christians started reciting the Lord’s Prayer, witnesses said. Later, a woman began quoting verses from the Quran that she said condoned violence against non-Muslims, video of the meeting showed. She spoke for several minutes before zoning board members shut her down.

The group indicated it intends to file a lawsuit challenging the denial.

For more on religious land use disputes, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s RLUIPA Resource Page.