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VOL. 36 | NO. 34 | Friday, August 24, 2012

Mosque opponents seek to intervene in federal case

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Opponents of a new Tennessee mosque want a federal judge to give them a say in a religious discrimination case involving the building.

For two years the group fought to shut down construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in state court.

They nearly succeeded earlier this summer when a Rutherford County judge ruled the May 2010 meeting where the mosque's construction plans were approved was void due to insufficient public notice. The U.S. attorney's office in Nashville stepped in, claiming violations of religious liberty. A federal judge agreed and ordered the county to continue inspections and permitting of the mosque.

On Thursday, the building received its final certificate of occupancy and it is unclear what the mosque opponents could achieve at this point if they were allowed to intervene in the federal case. Calls to attorney Joe Brandon Jr., who represents the opponents, were not immediately returned.

Among their claims, the opponents say their rights were violated because they were unaware of the meeting where the mosque was approved, therefore unable to lobby the local planning commission about it.

Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew, in a May 29 decision, agreed with them that the planning commission meeting was held in violation of the state's Open Meetings Act. He ruled that the intense public interest in the mosque meant the meeting should have been advertised more broadly than county meetings normally are.

U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin, in asking the federal judge last month to overturn that ruling, said Corlew had illegally created a separate "mosque standard" that applied only to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

Mosque opponents, in their request filed earlier this month to intervene in the federal case, also raise a number of claims that are similar to claims that were dismissed in state court, including that local Muslims are linked to terrorists.

The court hears the motion Friday afternoon.