Archive for Rutherford County

Murfreesboro Mosque Saga Continues: Judge Voids Planning Commission’s Approval

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2012 by loonwatch

County Judge Robert Corlew III decided to void the county planning commission’s approval of the mosque project based not on the Mosque opponents wacky claims about stealth-jihad, islamization, Islam not being a religion, etc., but the narrow reason that the county did not give “adequate public notice about a request to build the mosque.” That is a helluva lot more rational reason than the hyperbolic, fear-mongering, hate-filled nonsense that we’ve become accustomed to hearing from the Lou Ann Zelenik anti-Murfreesboro mosque camp.

The judge did not however call for “construction to be stopped” and so County and Mosque officials are saying construction will continue for the time being:

County says it won’t order halt to mosque construction

by Bob Smietana (The Tennessean)

UPDATE: Rutherford County has no immediate plans revoke the building permit for an embattled Murfreesboro mosque.

“The county is going to look at all the possibilities,” said Jim Cope, attorney for Rutherford County. “This could take weeks.”

Construction at the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was set to continue today, despite a judge’s decision that voided the county planning commission’s approval of the project. But the judge did not order a stop to the construction.

Opponents of the mosque want construction to end immediately. Mosque officials say the work will continue until they get official word to stop.

“There are two sides here that disagree,” said Cope. “The county is not the umpire here.”

Cope said that county officials are waiting for a court order from Judge Robert Corlew III before taking their next step. They could file a motion to reconsider or appeal the judge’s decision.

Blocking the mosque project could lead to a federal lawsuit under the religious anti-discrimination laws.

“There are a lot of moving parts in this,” said Cope.

PREVIOUSLY REPORTED

A judge says the Rutherford County planning commission violated state law by not giving adequate public notice about a request to build a mosque in Murfreesboro. But the judge did not say whether work on the building has to stop.

Mosque supporters and opponents disagree on whether the ruling means construction work at the site should stop immediately until there is another planning meeting to discuss the request again. Essam Fathy, head of the construction committee for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, said workers will return to the Veals Road site today to continue building the 52,960-square-foot mosque because no one in county government has told them to stop. “This has all come as a big surprise,” he said.

Fathy said there is still about six weeks of work left on the first phase of the project — 12,000 square feet — which began in September.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Rutherford County Building Codes Department had not revoked the mosque’s building permit.

But Joe Brandon, attorney for the plaintiffs who filed suit against the county in 2010 challenging the public notice process, said the judge’s ruling means the work cannot legally continue. “At the present time, they (congregation members) are in violation of the law if they as much as lift a hammer,” Brandon said.

Brandon said the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was not a named party in the lawsuit and that’s probably why the judge’s order doesn’t specifically order construction halted.

But he said the judge’s ruling erases the site approval, and without that approval, the building permit should be invalid.

Chancellor Robert Corlew III ruled Tuesday that the commission failed to give adequate public notice of a May 24, 2010, meeting. At that meeting, commissioners approved the new building plans for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. But the judge said the commission’s actions were “null and void.”

State law requires that government bodies provide adequate public notice of meetings, but it does not offer many specifics beyond that. Attorneys for Rutherford County have argued that the notice in the printed edition of the Murfreesboro Post and on the paper’s website met the notice requirements.

The county’s legal department did not return calls late Tuesday.

Jim Cope, Rutherford County attorney, told The Tennessean in July 2011 that if the site plan approval was revoked, then mosque leaders probably would have to reapply to the planning commission. Because the Veals Road site is already zoned for religious use, there would be no public hearing or comments on the site plan.

“What we’d have in effect is a ‘do-over,’ ” Cope said last year.

The county attorney also could appeal the decision.

‘A huge victory’

The judge said the commission can meet again to discuss the mosque project, as long as it gives proper notice to the public. Mosque opponents and other members of the public have a right to attend that meeting, but they don’t have the right to speak at the meeting, Corlew wrote. And any future decision by the commission can’t discriminate against members of the mosque, he said.

The next commission meeting is set for June 11.

Imam Osama Bahloul said leaders of the Islamic center would do whatever the county asked of them. “We want to obey the law,” he said. “We want to be good citizens.”

Brandon repeated his belief that the Islamic center is a political organization, not a religious group. “Today is a huge victory. It’s the first time that the political movement of Islam has been stopped in its tracks.”

If the Islamic center gets approved for a new site plan, he said, then the plaintiffs would file a new lawsuit. “They are in this for the long haul.”

Judge refuses to stop construction of Tenn. mosque

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , on November 19, 2010 by loonwatch

Will the loons accept the verdict or resort to violence?

Judge refuses to stop construction of Tenn. mosque

A judge refused Wednesday to stop construction of a proposed mosque in Tennessee that was opposed by some local residents who tried to argue that there was a conspiracy by Muslims to impose extremist law on the United States.

Opponents filed a lawsuit claiming that Rutherford County planning officials violated Tennessee’s open meetings law when they approved the site plan for an Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville.

Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew ruled after closing arguments that he could not find that the “county acted illegally, arbitrarily or capriciously” in approving the plan.

But much of the questioning from plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Brandon Jr. during seven days of testimony since late September was about whether Islam qualified as a religion. He pushed his theory that American Muslims want to replace the Constitution with extremist Islamic law.

Corlew said there was some concern about the public notice requirements and suggested county or state officials look at those requirements. But he said the court did not find that members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro adhered to extremist religious ideas.

Mosque leaders want to expand their facilities to accommodate a growing congregation and currently the proposed site is being prepared but no construction has started. Federal investigators are looking into a dump truck that was set on fire at the construction site earlier this year and twice the sign announcing the future site of the new Islamic center was vandalized.

Brandon had his hands on his face and at times was bent over the desk during the judge’s ruling. Afterward he briskly walked out of the courtroom without addressing the media.

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who opposes the mosque but was not among the plaintiffs, said the plaintiffs are disappointed with the judge’s decision. However, she said the judge did recognize some of their concerns regarding notification of public meetings.

“We felt like the judge did hear us on those issues,” she said.

During the testimony, witnesses pointed out that Islamic Center of Murfreesboro board member Mosaad Rowash previously had pro-Hamas postings on his MySpace page, something the mosque’s leaders have not denied. The U.S. government considers Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic political party with an armed wing that has attacked Israel, a terrorist organization.

But Corlew said the actions of individuals associated with the mosque was poor judgment.

Brandon said before the ruling that the dispute would continue, however the judge rules. “If the court rules against us, we’re not going to stop,” he said.

Cardoza-Moore said the legal team would meet with the plaintiffs to decide the next course of action.

Jim Cope, the attorney for the county, said they will be prepared for any further challenges.

“We will continue to defend the county’s rights and interests in seeing the actions that we took were upheld appropriately,” he said.

Layla Hantouli, a 22-year-old Muslim woman who has been following the testimony, was glad the judge ruled against the mosque opponents.

“The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro is not promoting anything violent or anything unlawful,” she said.

 

Murfreesboro: Costs Mounting for County in Mosque Suit

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2010 by loonwatch

Sometimes you can make a pretty penny when being an anti-Muslim bigot or Islamophobe.Emerson, Spencer, Geller and a host of others have literally laughed all the way to the bank but in some scenarios such actions can bite you in the butt.(hat tip: Eric Allen Bell)

County’s costs in mosque suit mounting

by Scott Broder

Rutherford County leaders recently added $50,000 to the county attorney’s budget for lawsuits against the government, but more could be needed by the time hearings end for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

“That was one estimate,” Rutherford County Finance Director Lisa Nolen said. “We may have to come back. I have received no bills yet.”

County Attorney Jim Cope gets paid $250 per hour and at least three associates earn $150 per hour. All four attorneys have spent multiple hours in court during six days of testimony before Chancellor Robert Corlew III. The case is scheduled to resume Nov. 12.

Cope said he and his associates have not added up their billing hours for being in court, preparing briefs, holding strategy meetings and talking to witnesses, media and other people involved in the case.

“It’s a costly case,” Cope said. “It’s involving a lot of time by the county attorneys. It’s a team effort.”

If Cope has spent 50 hours representing the county in court or preparing lawsuit motions, his bill would be $12,500 so far for September and October work. If associate Josh McCreary put in 50 hours, add another $7,500. If the other two associates have dealt with it for the same amount of time, each would get $7,500.

Even before plaintiffs Kevin Fisher, Lisa Moore and Henry Golczynski filed their suit Sept. 16, the county had already faced about $2,000 in legal bills from county attorneys spending 11.2 hours researching answers in August to four questions about the Islamic Center issue Fisher presented to the County Commission’s Public Works & Planning Committee.

“I’m expecting more,” Nolen said.

The county has a legal services agreement to pay Cope and his Murfreesboro firm at least a $6,000 per month retainer fee and more if the attorneys’ hours exceed $6,000 worth of service.

The county began this fiscal year July 1 with another $37,800 in the county attorney budget to cover additional work beyond the 12 months of retainer fees that total $72,000. The approved budget was based on Cope’s firm making $109,978 in the previous fiscal year.

The commission decided Oct. 14 to add another $50,000 to the budget to cover the additional work that included the lawsuit defense.

Other legal work includes Cope settling a dispute between the county’s Election Commission and its suspended Administrator of Elections Hooper Penuel; the county attorney office working on agreements to form a consolidated fire and rescue squad department; and a law firm associate preparing a proposed anti-litter resolution.

The county’s defense so far has dealt with plaintiffs seeking a restraining order to stop the county from issuing any more construction permits for the Islamic Center’s proposed mosque on Veals Road.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys, Joe Brandon Jr. of Rutherford County and Tom Smith of Williamson County, have brought up additional challenges in the case. They contend Islam is not a legitimate religion deserving of First Amendment rights because it seeks to take over the country to enforce Shariah Law, and they accuse local Muslim leaders of promoting terrorism.

Brandon also challenged whether the county broke the state’s open meetings law by not providing sufficient public notice of the Regional Planning Commission’s May 24 meeting to approve the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s site plan.

The congregation also has plans to build a cemetery there, pending approval from the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals. Brandon has questioned Planning Director Doug Demosi’s role in approving a Muslim burial May 18 on the site.

Some details about paying for the plaintiffs’ lawsuit have emerged in court. Moore testified that she didn’t have to pay anything to Brandon.

“Donations is how I get paid,” Brandon said while questioning her. “You’re not obligated to pay me one cent.”

Other testimony has emerged about donations being paid to Proclaiming Justice to the Nations to educate the public about the dangers of Shariah Law and radical Islam. The group’s website offers an icon people can click on to “Donate to PJTN” and offers the statement: “Educating Christians about their biblical responsibility to stand with their Jewish brethren and to defend the State of Israel.”
PJTN President Laurie Cardoza-Moore has traveled here from her Williamson County home to attend much of the testimony at Rutherford County Chancery Court. She previously spoke at Rutherford County Commission meetings to warn officials they could be liable for failing to protect residents here.

“We are raising money to educate Christians about the growing threat of radical Islam and Shariah Law in our communities,” Cardoza-Moore said in an interview last Tuesday. “I have not contributed to the lawsuit fund.”

The website mentions her grassroots activism since the 9/11 terrorism attacks and a documentary she made, “Lest We Forget” that focuses on “Islamofacism and the war that the U.S. and Israel wage against it today.”

Murfreesboro resident Jeanetta Alford testified that she contributed $100 for what she thought promoted education about the threat of Islam as well as her getting a copy of “Lest We Forget.”

“I think Shariah Law is overtaking the United States,” Alford said from the witness stand. “It violates our U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights.”

Plaintiffs’ witness Millie Evans testified that she wrote a $500 check and gave another $100 in cash to the fund because of her concerns about Shariah Law.

“I oppose the dangers of the center in the future,” testified Evans, who’s not satisfied that county officials have properly examined the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. “I wish they’d ask more questions.”

Evans said the group has met several times, including at the home of Sally Wall, a retired real estate and development professional, and Howard Wall, a former chairman of the Rutherford County Republican Party.

The Walls have watched much of the hearing from the spectators’ seats, along with her daughter, Beth O’Brien, a former Murfreesboro City councilwoman. None of them have been called to the witness stand.

Howard Wall, in an interview outside of the County’s Judicial Building, said he had contributed a small amount to the legal fund.

In addition to Howard Wall, former Rutherford County Republican Party chairwoman Lou Ann Zelenik has attended some of the hearing, sitting with opponents of the Islamic Center.

Zelenik during her close but unsuccessful campaign to be the Republican Party nominee for the 6th Congressional District seat in the Aug. 5 primary, accused Islamic Center board member Mosaad Rawash of supporting Hamas and “violent Jihad and martyrdom of Palestinians fighting against Israel” by posting these positions on his MySpace page on the Internet.

 

Hey Folks, Islam is a Religion after all!

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , on October 28, 2010 by loonwatch

Ummm….thank you…I guess?

Murfreesboro mosque debate: U.S. Department of Justice says Islam is a religion

BY BRIAN HAAS • THE TENNESSEAN • OCTOBER 18, 2010

The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday waded into the debate over a proposed mosque near Murfreesboro on Monday, saying that Islam is a valid religion.

The department on Monday filed a brief in a lawsuit challenging the proposed mosque, arguing that Islam is an officially recognized religion and warning Rutherford County officials that treating Islam as anything other than a religion could violate civil rights laws.

U.S. Attorney Jerry E. Martin will be holding a 1 p.m. press conference today to discuss the brief.

The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro is in the process of trying to build new worship facilities after outgrowing their Murfreesboro location. About 18 months ago, religious leaders there decided to develop land they bought at Veals Road and Bradyville Pike to host their new 10,000-square foot center, which would house worship services, receptions, classrooms, a gym and a pool. Outside, they hope to build sporting areas, a playground, a pavilion and a cemetery on the 15-acre site.

Tensions have been high about the proposed mosque, with competing rallies in and around Murfreesboro both for and against the proposal.

Opponents of the mosque have filed suit against Rutherford County officials, accusing the county of not properly notifying the public about the proposal. The lawsuit also argues that Islam is not a valid religion, but a political movement that is looking to supplant U.S. laws with Muslim laws.

The Department of Justice in its brief was blunt of that assessment.

“Every court addressing the question has treated Islam as a religion for purposes of the First Amendment and other federal laws. No court has held otherwise,” the brief reads. “Islam falls plainly within the understanding of a religion for constitutional and other federal legal purposes…”

The Department of Justice brief does not argue whether the proposed center itself should be approved, only that Islam is an officially recognized religion.

Federal law enforcement officials continue to investigate the arson of construction equipment at the site of the proposed mosque.

Contact Brian Haas at 615-726-8968 or bhaas@tennessean.com.