Understatement of the Year: “Murfreesboro Mosque Opponents Dislike Islam”

A good article by SAM STOCKARD.

STOCKARD: Mosque lawsuit boils down to dislike of Islam

Foes of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s building plan used Rutherford County’s lax planning rules as a cover to hide their dislike for Muslims and their religion.

In what may have been the longest temporary restraining order hearing in county history, the attorney for mosque opponents tried to shoot holes in planning and public notification rules.

Make no mistake, they have plenty of gaps, because the county’s guidelines don’t require neighbors to be notified about site plans and they don’t require the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission agendas to be published in their entirety in advance of a meeting.

But for mosque foes to act as if they didn’t know about the Islamic Center’s plan to build a mosque on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike is disingenuous at best and an outright lie at worst.

The Islamic Center posted a large sign on the property letting people know about the future site in late 2009, months before the Planning Commission was to consider the proposal.

The Daily News Journal also published stories about the sign being vandalized with the words “Not welcome” spray-painted on it. It was later broken in two.

On the day the Planning Commission was to consider the measure, The DNJ also published a small story notifying the public about the matter.

Not until several days later did mosque opponent Kevin Fisher start raising questions about the issue. In a later interview, Fisher more or less said the mosque foes would have to use technicalities to defeat the Islamic Center site plan. He also acknowledged he has personal problems with Islam.

One of Rutherford County’s planning flaws is that places of worship are allowed by right, the same as residential zoning, thus no public hearing was held.

The second is that apparently little thought was given to the impact of a facility that could eventually encompass nearly 53,000 square feet, though the Islamic Center acknowledges that could take about two decades to complete.

One of Judge Robert Corlew’s biggest concerns was that the County Commission had its legal ads and public notices published in the Murfreesboro Post. Commissioners switched to the Post from The DNJ to save money. Because state law requires only that meetings be advertised in a weekly newspaper of general distribution, the county’s ads are legal.

But even if the county had continued advertising with The DNJ, the notice still wouldn’t have let people know the planning commission was going to consider the Islamic Center plan that day. The agenda isn’t published, only a note saying when and where the meeting will be held.

That’s why The DNJ felt it necessary to let people know what was coming up, even if it wasn’t a front-page story that, up to that point, had received no public attention.

Even when The DNJ published reports about Islamic Center sign vandalism, nobody started fussing about the proposed site.

Only after the matter was approved did people start rallying against the mosque plan, going before the County Commission, holding marches on the Public Square and, ultimately, trying to stop the county from issuing more building permits with a legal challenge.

Chancellor Corlew allowed the hearings to stretch over the course of three months with more than eight hours of testimony and arguments in which the plaintiffs’ attorney, Joe Brandon, tried to label the county mayor and half the county Planning Commission as being soft on terrorism.

Fortunately for the First Amendment, Corlew ruled against the plaintiffs, saying he could find no harm done to them and that the county did not act capriciously in approving the Islamic Center site.

Interestingly enough, he ruled that Islam is, in fact, a religion. That is the key to all of this because the first argument a mosque foe takes is that Islam is not a religion.

Well, it may not be their religion, and it may not be a haven for women’s rights, but it is a religion, the second largest in the world. In fact, many people believe America is in the midst of a religious war, following the 9/11 bombing by Islamic radicals.

It’s a religion that Christians more or less tried to wipe out in trying to reclaim Jerusalem from Mohammedans during 200 years of Crusades in the Medieval period.

So if you don’t like Islam or Muslims, that’s your business. Call yourself a modern Crusader. But trying to take away their rights to worship in Rutherford County is about like trying to cut federal taxes at a Murfreesboro City Council meeting.

Corlew doesn’t have the authority to ban a religion, and attacking county planning rules won’t bring an end to Islam.

DNJ Senior Writer Sam Stockard can be reached 615-278-5165 or stockard@dnj.com.


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