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Lawsuit filed to stop Mosque as supporters speak up

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Supporters of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro's right to build had their say at Thursday's meeting of the Rutherford County Commission as opponents filed a lawsuit to stop it.

It was the first time voices of support were heard en masse at the Courthouse, some of which represent the very Muslim community who say they are being unfairly targeted.

"In the past five months, we have allowed those who hurt us all to achieve their goal and dividing this community and this nation," Lema Sbenaty told the commission. "We cannot let them succeed."

Sbenaty was born in Tennessee and lived in Murfreesboro since she was 1 year old and said she was just like everyone else with one exception: She's a Muslim.

Mosque opponent Kevin Fisher was scheduled to speak but had to leave due to health problems. A couple of hours before the commission meeting, Fisher filed a lawsuit against the commission in chancery court to stop construction of the Mosque.

"This case is about making sure that it's really a church and making sure the county commission and planning commission stop operating as puppets," Attorney Joe Brandon Jr. told the Murfreesboro Post. "It is a federal crime to fund terrorism, and at this point we are confident that we can show a direct connection between members of the ICM and Hamas."

The lawsuit filed by Fisher's attorney asked the court for an order preventing the county commission from taking any further steps to advance the approval of a site at 2700 Veals Rd. for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro or any use of the site for a cemetery, park or school.

An amended complaint is being filed Friday by Brandon to remove the names of two plaintiffs who did not wish to be listed. Brandon explained it was an error on his part. Fisher is named with three other plaintiffs: James Estes, Lisa Moore and Henry Golczynski.

Fisher never took the podium to speak Thursday telling the Murfreesboro Post when he returned to the meeting he couldn't take what he was hearing.

"All I heard was this socialist garbage being spewed by the pro Mosque crowd," Fisher said. "It was too much. The things that they represent offend me. I walked out and went to talk to citizens."

What Fisher and opponents heard was a defense of the United States Constitution, local and state law and their Islamic neighbors. Most thanked the commission for upholding the rule of law and argued that extremists are the common enemy of all faiths.

"All of this is part of a general wave of Islamophobia," Jase Short told the commission. "These same political forces have subjected citizens who have stood up for civil rights and the civil rights of others with a good deal of slander."

Layla Hantouli said her community is united against extremists and gave first hand testimony to how her family is affected by Mosque opponents.

"Right now the only communication I'm getting is you are a terrorist," Hantouli said. "We're here to take a stand against extremism and we need you to do the same in defense of our community."

Thomas Moss, a member of Middle Tennesseans for Religious Freedom, charged opponents engaged in the very acts of religious intolerance they claim to fear.

"I know you are smart enough to realize that you are becoming the very thing that you fight against," Moss said. "As with Islam, a radical minority of residents have had an adverse affect on the majority."

Cynthia Joe Nelson, who has lived here since 1991, summed up the shame she and others said they feel over the way opponents have painted Murfreesboro.

"It has been sad to see this community so torn and filled with angry noise by a few people who are too frightened to get to know these folks," Nelson said. "I'm proud my church has reached out to the Islamic Center. They have reached back."

Only one opponent took to the podium to echo a fear expressed by some residents and outsiders that area Muslims would take over local government and force residents to worship Allah.

"This democratic council will have to be disbanded because it has to submit to the local Mosque, Imams or local regional Mulahs who interpret political islam without jury or appeal," Donald Wescott warned the commission.

Wescott is one of many residents who oppose the approved construction of an Islamic center to serve a community of Muslims that have lived here since the 1980s.

The 52,000 square feet facility was approved earlier this year by the county under a new state law that allows religious institutions to build whatever they want in residential neighborhoods as a "use of right."

Community anger followed the county's May approval under the Tennessee Religious Freedom Act of site plans for a Mosque to be built in a residential area off Veals Rd.

The new state law praised by conservatives at the time it passed goes above and beyond a similar federal law enacted in 2000 by forcing local governments to provide "clear and convincing evidence" of the government's interest when denying building plans of religious institutions in residential neighborhoods.

Local residents expressed their fear and anger at two past meetings of the Rutherford County Commission when area Muslims were granted permission to build a new Mosque. Some told commissioners they feared Muslims would try to kill them while others contended Muslims were here to replace local government with Sharia Law.

Opposition to the Mosque gained the attention of Televangelist Pat Robertson. In an August 19 airing of the 700 Club, the one-time failed Presidential candidate said Muslims could be bribing county government.

"I don't know whether anybody is getting a pay-off, but it's entirely possible," Robertson told his audience.

On August 28, someone burned excavating equipment where the Mosque is being built damaging the equipment. The incident also followed vandalism against the site's sign in January and June.

Fisher and opponents expressed confidence they will put a stop to planned construction of the Islamic Center. Fisher made a point to tell the Murfreesboro Post this wasn't about intolerance toward Muslims. Meanwhile, construction continues.
Read more from:
Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Joe Brandon, Kevin Fisher, Lema Sbenaty, RuCo
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Members Opinions:
September 17, 2010 at 2:59pm
September 17, 2010 at 4:05pm
I think residents in Murfreesboro need to get out and see the world, and maybe stop eating lead paint.
September 17, 2010 at 4:39pm
I think it's painfully ironic that the person who is leading the persecution of muslims happens to be a black man.

You'd think he of all people would understand the harmful effects of racism and bigotry.
September 17, 2010 at 5:29pm
I think the commission acted within the law and I expect that the Opposers of Freedom of Religion will have to pay huge court costs and lawyer fees.
I wonder if they will counter sue.
September 17, 2010 at 5:31pm
What is even more ironic is I see him wearing the "I have a dream" speach on his clothing all of the time. THIS WAS NOT THE GREAT MLK JR'S DREAM.
Fisher is a disgrace to Murfreesboro.
September 17, 2010 at 5:55pm
Fisher is not just a disgrace to M'boro. He's a disgrace to humanity.
September 17, 2010 at 8:22pm
I really just don't understand how these people think that having a large Islamic Center means that all of a sudden our elected officials will have to submit to Islamic edicts and dictates. It might happen if the community votes in NOTHING but conservative, religious, fundamentalist muslims, but is that realistically going to happen? The one Muslim member of congress had to prove to Glenn Beck that he WASN'T working for "the enemy". I think it's funny that Kevin had to leave because he couldn't listen to the message of the mosque supporters. That's how I feel everytime I have to hear rednecks scream about Moooslims taking over the USA. Nice to see he got a bit of his own medicine.
I've lived in the boro since I was in the 7th grade and I'm 31 now. I'm tired of these bellicose, backwoods hicks acting as representitives of my city. I'm happy the Islamic Center is being built and I welcome as many mosques, churches, buddhist temples, etc that want to be here.
PS- I hope Mr. Fisher stays in fine health despite my disagreement with his views. It must be very taxing to have to keep up the bigotry.
September 17, 2010 at 9:25pm
Kevin Fisher and the people who are backing him (and using this poor fool as a pawn) are wasting tax payer money on this frivolous lawsuit. They will fail.
September 17, 2010 at 9:28pm
You have to understand a few things about Kevin Fisher:

1 - His marriage ended when his wife converted to Islam.

2 - He was the only non-white person leading the march against the mosque on July 14th for a reason - they put him in charge!

3 - He continually has tried and failed to seek media attention and he has struck gold on this one.

4 - Talk to the man for 5 minutes, any of you, and you will see clearly that there is some kind of mental illness at work here. He clearly has a few screws loose. Even after I identified myself clearly and my position on the mosque, and after we spoke for 2 hours on camera, he kept asking me to help him organize the march against the mosque - EVEN THOUGH I AM CLEARLY IN FAVOR OF THE MOSQUE BEING BUILT. He is being used. He is a fool and a pawn.

September 17, 2010 at 9:39pm
Thanks for making our entire state look bad, bigots. I just watched a politician's ad claiming his policies will bring jobs to Tennessee. What business owner is going to move to the state now that you bigots have made your bigotry world-famous? Bonus: your ignorance of the Constitution also makes Tennesseans look badly educated.
September 18, 2010 at 8:09am
HOWARD WALL has given and he has taken much from the people of Rutherford County. Many are grateful to him. Many fear him. Many owe him. Howard and his wife Sally Snow are church going folks who have recently turned their attention, political connections and wealth accumulated from a vast real estate empire towards stopping the building of a new Islamic Center in their hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

September 18, 2010 at 9:48am
I used to think that those jokes about some people in areas of KY, TN. WV being in bred banjo playing retards (as in movie Deliverance)was unfair and uncharitable. After reading about the anti-Mosque fools, I'm not so sure !

Too much FOX news, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and the other intolerant right-wing nuts like the Know-Nothing fools opposing the Mosque will rot your brains like sniffing glue. I guess that makes me a "socialist."
September 18, 2010 at 2:03pm
@redhand32 - Most people in Murfressboro aren't as you describe. But most of those same people are too afraid to stand up to the ones you have described and therein lies the problem.
September 18, 2010 at 11:40pm
Dear Murfreesboroans - As someone outside your area I'd like to reassure you this conflict actually =isn't= making you look bigoted or backward. The coverage I've seen (as a fairly random-source news consumer) depicts most of you folks as rational & respectful and aware of what's right, and the mosque opponents as a small screechy lunatic minority. The ignorant-hillbilly myth is being debunked, not reinforced. You give me hope. Don't stay silent.
September 19, 2010 at 12:40pm
FOR THE RECORD: And I have plenty of video footage to back this up... When my camera crew approached Kevin Fisher on the square (Saturday, 9.18.2010), here is what happened:

- I approached Kevin Fisher with cameras rolling and said, "Hi Kevin" to which he replied..., "You're racially harassing me, leave me alone".

- I asked him if he would make a statement about the lawsuit he filed against the mosque to which he continued to respond, several times, "You are racially harassing me" and "stop racially harassing me".

- Then Kevin Fisher called 9-1-1 and said "I am being racially harassed. I am the only African American here. This guy does this to me all the time. He is within striking distance so I have the right to hit, him right?"

- The police clearly did not take him seriously so he switched gears to "I'm diabetic". Am ambulance came and took Fisher to the hospital. I called his room there after to see if he was alright and he was fine.

September 19, 2010 at 9:51pm
I'm currently serving in the Army in support of OEF, in afghanistan. It is sad that a year after i join the Army that my hometown goes to war over the very freedoms that I am fighting for. Last time I checked the U.S. Constitution states that we all, as U.S. citizens have the freedom of speech. Just saying, maybe some of the opposers of this Islamic Center should open their eyes and read the Constitution.
September 20, 2010 at 11:23am
As usual, the best the left-wing can do is ad hominem attacks. How utterly pathetic.

Just so liberals understand, the constitution gives those people who object to the Islamic Center the same right to protest it as it gives the Islamists to build it. If you are suddenly going to become vocal about the constitution, then you must be equally committed to the rights of those protesting. Failing to do so makes your constitutional argument disingenuous.
September 20, 2010 at 6:14pm
@SocEtTuem - Nonsense. The mosque opponents ARE exercising their constitutional right to protest, and it looks like plenty of our tax dollars will be spent accommodating that right. The point is, they have no legal basis to demand that other citizens' rights -- here, the right to build upon one's own property -- be denied without cause, so their lawsuit will fail miserably. What's disingenuous here is the attempt to claim anyone's stifling dissent. The fact that the opponents' leader has obvious personal problems is really a separate issue, but still newsworthy. It's hardly an ad hominem attack to relate an event (esp. with video backup) that reveals his character.
September 20, 2010 at 6:58pm
Sure, Conservatives have the right to protest the Islamic Center.

And that same Constitutional right is being exercised by the "left-wing" to point out that such protest is hypocritical, bigoted, silly, and anti-American.

Just so Conservatives like SocEtTuem understand, we can both support your right to protest the Islamic Center, while ridiculing you for being stupid enough to think your argument has merit or logic.
September 21, 2010 at 6:07am


September 21, 2010 at 8:52am
Ok Eric, are you going to show the part where four of you confronted Kevin when the camera wasn't rolling? And that is when Kevin called the police. You will never be anything but a Michael Moore "wannbe". Your tatics are crude and you will do anything (from what I can tell) to back your biased position.
September 22, 2010 at 11:11am
Were you there? No. What Kevin Fisher described on the evening news never happened. My cameras were rolling from the moment he got out of his car to the moment the ambulance took him away. There are 4 cameras. If we need to go to court then my footage will clear my name and convict him of filing a false report and attempting to defame not only my character by those of my camera crew.
September 22, 2010 at 1:39pm
Hmmm, four men, four cameras, Me thinks you just dug your own grave. No I was not there, unlike you I work for a living.
September 22, 2010 at 10:53pm
everyone has their own views. I was there on the square in the summer, all looked and sounded like a football game with no ball...I'm for it, I'm against it, blah,blah,blah...I'm Jewish..enough said...
September 27, 2010 at 9:50pm
Eric, do you have undoubtable proof that Kevin Fisher's ex-wife left him after converting to Islam? I'm interested in that angle.
October 24, 2010 at 2:40am
Late to comment, but, EricAllenBell, I have serious doubt over one thing you said: "I called his room there after to see if he was alright and he was fine."

So, either he told you he was fine--which I doubt because he had no interest in speaking with you previously, a family member told you (also highly doubtful), or a staffer violated HIPAA and told you? I'm curious who told you this, precisely.
March 28, 2011 at 12:01pm
I ask you an honest question: Who exactly were the cause of the recent financial debacle and the subsequent bailout making the perps even richer and the working people even poorer and in-depth to the greedy? They couldn’t have been Muslims because like Christianity for 1900 years, they forbid Usury.
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