Attorneys representing opponents of the construction of an Islamic community center in Murfreesboro appeared in Chancery Court Monday morning.
Plaintiffs asked Chancellor Robert E. Corlew III to impose an injunction on any further construction on the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro claiming approval did not provide adequate public comment and that its members will impose Sharia Law on Murfreesboro residents.
"Why would we give any religion the right to cancel our rights under the United States Constitution," Plaintiff's Attorney Joe Brandon Jr. said in opening statements to the court. "If the Planning Commission had approved this for Osama bin Laden, would they still feel there should be no public hearing?"
The lawsuit was filed Sept. 16 in Chancery Court by six individuals. An amended complaint was filed the next day by Brandon to remove two names who did not want to be associated with the lawsuit. Kevin Fisher, James Estes, Lisa Moore and Henry Golczynski are plaintiffs and were present.
Plaintiffs and other residents expressed their fear and anger at three previous meetings of the Rutherford County Board of Commissioners. The public comments followed a May rezoning approval for new Mosque construction on Veals Road.
The 52,000-square-foot facility was approved under a new state law that allows religious institutions to build in residential neighborhoods as a "use by right." The Tennessee Religious Freedom Act, sponsored by State Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), 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.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs claim public notices for the rezoning were not adequate and that an injunction would prevent imminent or irreparable harm to the plaintiffs.
"If we were enjoined, I suspect the injunction, as entered, would prevent the county from doing inspections," defendant co-counsel Josh McCreary told the court. "Building would then continue without the county's oversight."
Plaintiffs called former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan, Frank Gaffney, to the stand and asked the court to enter him as an expert on Sharia Law.
"I don't hold myself out as an expert on Sharia Law," Gaffney told the court on the witness stand. "But I have talked a lot about that as a threat."
Corlew sustained an objection by County Attorney Jim Cope based on Gaffney's own admission on the stand to Plaintiff's Attorney Tom Smith.
Under questioning by attorney for the plaintiffs, Gaffney described Sharia Law and the dangers it poses to communities across the nation.
"Sharia (law) is the enemy-threat doctrine we face today," Gaffney said. "And that threat has trickled down to local governments."
Amidst sustained objections on hearsay and authenticity of documents submitted in court, Smith told the court he wanted to convey the threat plaintiffs feel should have been a consideration before approval of the new Islamic Center. County attorneys didn't see the relevance.
"It is not relevant, and Gaffney has testified he is not an expert in Sharia Law or this Mosque issue on whether it should be rejected," Cope told the court.
"I don't think the plaintiffs are entitled to any relief," McCreary told the court. "The subject matter is not appropriate to seek an injunction."
On cross examination, Cope relentlessly questioned whether Gaffney knew of any local elected officials who broke state or federal law related to issues before the court.
"I'm here to warn this community of seditious acts of Sharia Law," Gaffney told the court. "I have not determined this is happening here, but that it is present in mosques like this."
Gaffney, who now serves as president of the lobbyist group Center for Security Policy, explained under cross examination that he was contacted by attorneys for the plantiffs Friday and flew from Washington, D.C. by their request.
Gaffney testified there are roughly 2,300 mosques across the country, and 80 percent are adherents to Sharia Law.
"Any elected official responsible for their community should be concerned about their presence," Gaffney said.
After two hours of testimony, the first witness was dismissed, and Corlew declared recess until at 9:45 Tuesday morning.