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VOL. 37 | NO. 30 | Friday, July 26, 2013

Mosque neighbors ask Tennessee high court to hear case

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NASHVILLE (AP) - A Murfreesboro mosque is built and in use, but that hasn't stopped neighbors from continuing to press their lawsuit challenging its construction.

Neighbors of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro have been arguing in court for three years that the construction approval was illegal. That's because they claim there was insufficient public notice for the planning commission meeting where the approval occurred.

A Rutherford County judge agreed with them, but that decision was overturned earlier this year by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. That court found the meeting notice complied with state law.

Now the neighbors are asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to reverse that decision.

"The Court of Appeals abolished any standard for notice under the Open Meetings Act," neighbors' attorney Joe Brandon Jr. said.

Tennessee law simply states that notice must be "adequate." The Appeals Court ruled that publication in the Murfreesboro Post fit that description.

Brandon has argued that the Post does not reach enough people and that residents who were interested in the mosque knew nothing about the meeting where it was approved.

Brandon said Wednesday in an interview that his clients still want the courts to declare the mosque's site plan void and require mosque officials file a new construction application with the county.

Rutherford County attorney Jim Cope said he had hoped the plaintiffs would not continue to appeal the case, but "all citizens have a right to pursue legal redress" to their grievances.

The mosque is not a party to the lawsuit but congregation members have been concerned that if the county loses in court it could put the status of their building in limbo.

Islamic Center board member Saleh Sbenaty said on Wednesday that those concerns have largely dissipated now that the congregation has been worshipping in the new Islamic center for a year.

"Ninety-nine percent of members do not even follow the news of the lawsuit," he said. He added, "After two difficult years, the community is very happy."

Two cases involving similar issues are pending in federal court. Those are on hold until the state court case is resolved.

It could be months before the Tennessee Supreme Court decides whether it will hear the appeal.