New Jersey Mosque Beats 'Discriminatory' Zoning

A proposed mosque in Bernards Township will move forward, after the DOJ sued the town for using zoning ordinances to undermine Muslims' religious freedom.

June 7, 2017, 12:00 PM PDT

By Elana Eden


New Jersey History

Doug Kerr / Flickr

"After five years, 39 public hearings, and two lawsuits, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge in New Jersey will finally be able to build a new mosque," reports Emma Green in The Atlantic.

When it proposed the mosque in 2012, the Islamic Society became the target of explicitly Islamophobic treatment from community members and was met with prevarication from officials. The plan was finally rejected, ostensibly on the basis of parking.

The group sued the township—and so did the Department of Justice, arguing under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which Green explains "prohibits local communities from using vague ordinances and bureaucratic procedures to discriminate against religious groups." Now, though the township denies any wrongdoing, it has agreed to settle both cases, and the proposed mosque will move forward.

This case was a particularly nasty and controversial example of a local board discriminating against a religious group that wanted a place to worship. But while the Bernards Township case is distinctive, it’s in no way unique. Religious discrimination in the U.S. often happens in the most quotidian settings, including debates over zoning ordinances.

Over the last decade, opposition to new mosques swelled throughout the United States, and the DOJ has intervened with local planning boards multiple timesIn March, Bayonne, NJ—just 30 miles from Bernards—rejected a proposed mosque and community center citing zoning concerns.

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