by Dave Urbanski
After a six-year battle with a New Jersey township, an Islamic group will get to build a mosque on the site it originally proposed there — and receive $3.25 million for its troubles.
Bernards Township calls the federal lawsuit settlement with the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge “the best possible outcome,” MyCentralJersey.com reported.
The township also agreed to train all current and future members of its planning board and township committee in diversity and inclusion — with an emphasis on Islam and Muslims — within 180 days, the outlet said, citing terms of the settlement released Tuesday. The settlement also requires the township to purchase an advertisement in a local paper advertising their obligations under the settlement.
The planning board of Bernards Township denied the application to build the mosque in December 2015 after 39 public hearings spanning four years, MyCentralJersey said, which led to the lawsuit that the Department of Justice soon joined as a co-plaintiff.
“Municipalities around the country should pay close attention to what happened in Bernards Township,” Adeel A. Mangi, lead counsel for the mosque, told the outlet. “The American Muslim community has the legal resources, the allies and the determination to stand up for its constitutional rights in court and will do so.”
The board hadn’t denied a building application for a house of worship in at least 20 years, the Washington Post reported.
The mosque has agreed to no external speakers on the building and no external amplification of the Muslim call for prayer, as well as an occupancy limit of 150 and a reduction in parking spaces from 107 to 50, MyCentralJersey said.
“We look forward to welcoming people of all faiths and backgrounds to our mosque,” Ali Chaudry, president of the mosque and a former township mayor, told the outlet. “Our doors will be open to anyone interested in building bridges to promote harmony in the community and peace in the world.”
The monetary payout breaks down to $1.5 million in damages and $1.75 million in legal expenses, MyCentralJersey said. Patterson Belknap, the mosque’s attorneys, will donate all of its attorney fees to a variety of charitable causes, the outlet said, adding that insurers for Bernards Township will pay the $3.25 million.
“If the township had continued litigation, there was significant risk of exceeding insurance coverage and the possibility of denial of coverage under certain exclusions,” the township said in its statement, MyCentralJersey reported.
Bernards Township said that it “vehemently disagrees” with federal Judge Michael Shipp’s Dec. 31, 2016 decision that it discriminated against the mosque by using a new ratio to determine the parking needs for the congregation, the outlet reported.
Jim Sues, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told MyCentralJersey the settlement shows that “these cases will be decided purely on zoning issues. There’s a bias in some cases, and the bias won’t be tolerated.”
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