Rutherford County officials were called to testify in day three of a lawsuit filed in Chancery Court to stop the construction of a mosque near Murfreesboro.
Plaintiff Attorney Joe Brandon Jr. called county building and codes staff asking them why they have failed to investigate a complaint filed with their office last week on Sept. 21.
"Because of this court case," Building and Codes Director David H. Jones told the court. "That did hamper us from doing anything that requires us to enter the site."
The complaint was about a May burial on property of the proposed Islamic Center of Murfreesboro on Veals Road. Planning Director Doug Demosi testified Tuesday that he granted a type I conditional-use permit (CUP) for the burial. Plaintiffs contend the CUP was also a permit allowing Muslims to begin constructing a cemetery. No such permit has been issued, however.
Building and Codes Zoning Enforcement Supervisor Joanne Criswell testified her office hasn't had time to begin investigating the burial complaint because of the plaintiff's lawsuit.
"Mr. Jones said he'd have to wait on legal advice for the next step," Criswell told the court. "All I know is it was for court and that's it."
The complaint asked building and codes to make sure the body buried on the property was done so with proper drainage and lot line considerations.
County Commissioner Robert Peay, whose district includes the proposed site of the mosque, shared the concerns of the plaintiffs on being informed, but also asked for tolerance.
"I want tolerance back in our community," Peay told the court.
"Where does tolerance meet Sharia law? What tolerance are you asking the plaintiffs to swallow," Brandon asked.
"Tolerance for people to exercise their right to freely practice their religion in our community as protected by the United States Constitution," Peay replied.
Peay agreed with plaintiff assertions that government should do a better job informing the public, but saw a need to treat the mosque as they have any other religious institution.
"The law is very restrictive as to what we can do regarding religious institutions," Peay said.
Uses of right in county zoning ordinances allow site plan approval for religious institutions in residentially zoned areas without public comment. The rule is designed to avoid religious supremacists from mobilizing to deny other religions their Constitutional right to practice their faith.
The Tennessee Religious Freedom Act of 2008 made it virtually impossible for local governments to deny site plans for religious institutions. The new law requires officials show "clear and convincing evidence" of the government's reason for denying such site plans.
Plaintiffs contend a mosque is not a church and should not have been given the privilege of use of right under local and state law. Plaintiffs claim the mosque's political agenda to institute Sharia law disqualifies them as a religion.
"Are you aware that's all the plaintiff's have wanted from day one is to know whether this is a religious institution," Brandon asked Peay.
"The United States government recognizes Islam as a religion, and until otherwise they have Constitutional rights," Peay said.
Chancellor Robert E. Corlew III recessed the trial until October 20 at 8:30 a.m. when he expects both sides to conclude within a couple of days.