Opponents of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro are only trying to intervene in federal court to stir up additional controversy based on hateful rhetoric, not law, according to a motion filed Monday by officials with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Attorney Joe Brandon Jr. presents his case April 26, 2012, on behalf of Islamic Center of Murfreesboro opponents in Rutherford County Chancery Court in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (File Photo)
In the motion, officials with the Justice Department slam attorneys representing the Islamic Center opponents, as well as all of the plaintiffs involved, who filed a request to challenge a recent federal ruling that overturned their victory in Rutherford County Chancery Court.
“The United States believes that the (opponents’) attempt to intervene is nothing more than an effort by those individuals to inject the same type of baseless and inflammatory arguments into these proceedings as those arguments that dominated the proceedings in state court,” U.S. Attorney Jerry E. Martin said in the motion filed in response to Islamic Center opponents seeking a challenge to the federal court proceedings.
For more than two years, opponents of the Islamic Center have fought to prevent the mosque from coming to fruition.
In the most recent legal showdown, Islamic Center opponents won a civil lawsuit on the grounds that the Rutherford County Planning Commission failed to provide adequate public notice prior to approving construction of the mosque, located on Veals Road.
As part of his ruling, Chancellor Robert Corlew III said the Planning Commission should have utilized multiple media outlets, which is not required under current law, to inform residents about the Islamic Center site plan proposal, given the totality of the circumstances.
That ruling is currently being challenged in the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
In light of that ruling, Corlew issued a court order barring the Planning Commission from approving any future plans and enjoined the Rutherford County government from processing any occupancy certificates for the Islamic Center.
He then denied a request by Rutherford County officials July 2 to lift the partial injunction.
Corlew said an occupancy certificate could not be issued because his previous decision voided authorization of a site plan proposal, which was approved by the Planning Commission during a May 2010 meeting – a decision that prompted the Justice Department to intervene in the case.
On July 18, U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell issued a 14-day restraining order against Corlew’s ruling, giving members of the Islamic Center the ability to open the mosque. That restraining order was extended July 26 after leaders of the Islamic Center requested more time to finish construction.
In response to the recent federal proceedings, Joe Brandon Jr. and Thomas Smith, who refused to comment, filed a request to intervene on the grounds Islamic Center opponents have been victimized by the Muslim community and denied due process in the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee.
Brandon and Smith defended several claims that the Islamic Center could become a terrorist training camp, which have been characterized as baseless by Justice Department officials.
“Activities of the Islamic Center and its leaders incited extreme concerns among Murfreesboro (residents), not about the religion of Islam,” Smith said in the motion, “but about whether the Islamic Center had ties to or was promoting various individuals affiliated with (groups) that the U.S. government has recognized as terrorist organizations.”
They also argue issues pertaining to Tennessee open meeting laws should remain in state courts, noting the definition of what constitutes adequate public notice is still up for debate.
Brandon had requested for U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp, who is now presiding over the case, to schedule a hearing Monday. However, Sharp instead asked Justice Department officials to file a response to the requests before considering an emergency hearing.