A Chancery Judge in Murfreesboro denied temporary injunctive relief sought by local plaintiffs in a lawsuit to stop the construction of a nearby mosque.
Chancery Court Judge Robert E. Corlew III patiently listened to more than six hours of closing arguments and rebuttal from plaintiffs before rendering the decision.
"The county is extremely pleased with the court's decision," County Attorney Jim Cope told reporters in the court room following the decision. "We were always hopeful this would be the outcome. We did feel confident we did this the right way."
Judge Corlew said the plaintiffs failed to show how they would be treated differently than other residents if the mosque construction moved forward. Corlew also addressed the desire of plaintiffs to have public hearings for the mosque.
"Under county ordinances, there is no allowance for public hearings of the type the plaintiffs seek," Corlew said. "We do not find upon the evidence before us any violation of this portion of the zoning regulation."
Plaintiffs demanded the planning commission investigate members of the local Muslim community and wanted Judge Corlew to force the local government to halt all subsequent permits for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM).
"Why would we take what law enforcement is supposed to do and put it in the hands of a bunch of planning commissioners," County Attorney Josh McCreary asked in closing arguments.
Judge Corlew also drew distinctions between law enforcement and county government bodies citing testimony from defense witness and land use attorney George Dean. He also stated that he wouldn't allow ignorance of the law to sway his decision.
From the very start of the trial, plaintiffs tried to make the case that Islam is not a religion deserving legal protections, an issue Judge Corlew said would be left to national policy makers.
"It does appear a vast majority of our county is zoned residential and as such allows for religious use by right," Judge Corlew said. "We cannot find the county erred or acted illegally, arbitrarily or capriciously in granting the ICM approval under religious uses of right."
Throughout closing arguments, Brandon continued raising suspicions of area Muslims who want to build a new 52,000 square feet facility on Veals Rd. claiming they are hiding in the shadows of Sharia law.
"What do you think he's out there teaching in, English? It's Arabic. Who do you think he's out there teaching," Brandon asked the judge.
"Who knows what they are trying to hide, but we believe that will come out in the future," Brandon added.
Plaintiffs used the opportunity to take shots at County Planning Director Doug Demosi calling him an "ignoramoose" and claiming he's "a danger to the community." Brandon also took issue with the county describing the hearing as a show.
"If this has been a circus, it's because they pitched a tent and brought the clowns," Brandon said.
Brandon warned the court if they did not step in and stop the mosque that we might have another Waco on our hands.
"Look at David Koresh. He had a religious institution until the government decided to load up their missiles and blowed it up and killed everybody."
Judge Corlew left open the question of whether the county gave sufficient notice of the May 24 site plan approval.
Judge Corlew noted that the county should consider using its TV channel and internet more as well as making notices available in other mediums, even though it wasn't entered as proof to what extent the county made notice.
Despite his findings on public notice, Judge Corlew also noted that if the county were made to start the site plan approval process over, the plaintiffs still would not have any right to public comment they seek under the law.
Both sides in the controversial case spent nearly 8 full days spanning three months hearing witness testimony from county commissioners and residents alike. The plaintiff's closing arguments warned more would come.
"If the court rules against us, we'll be back up here in six months," Plaintiff attorney Joe Brandon, Jr. told the judge. "That's what we're going to do."
- Closing arguments in mosque trial begin Wednesday - Nov. 16, 2010
- U.S. Attorneys make presence known in Murfreesboro mosque trial
- Witnesses fund lawsuit against local mosque - Oct. 21, 2010
- Plaintiffs ask if Islam is a religion in mosque trial - Oct. 20, 2010
- County officials called to testify in Murfreesboro mosque trial - Sept. 29, 2010
- Mosque opponents have full second day in court - Sept. 28, 2010
- Murfreesboro mosque opponents appear in Chancery Court - Sept. 27, 2010
- Lawsuit filed to stop Mosque as supporters speak up - Sept. 17, 2010
- Residents demand construction on Mosque be halted - Aug. 13, 2010
- RuCo considers changes to zoning regarding religious buildings - Aug. 2, 2010
- Residents express concerns over new Islamic Community Center - June 18, 2010