On March 2, 2011, AALDEF sent a letter to town officials in Bridgewater, NJ, expressing its support for the application to create the Al Falah Islamic Center. The letter urged the Township Council to reject a proposed zoning ordinance that would deny Muslims in Bridgewater a place to practice their religion. AALDEF asserted that the proposed zoning change would violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits land use regulations that substantially burden the exercise of religion. A public hearing on the proposed ordinance will be held on Monday, March 14 at 7:30 pm at the Bridgewater-Raritan High School auditorium, 600 Garretson Road, Bridgewater, NJ. A copy of AALDEF’s letter appears below.
March 2, 2011
Mayor Patricia Flannery
Councilman Howard Norgalis
Councilman Dan Hayes
Councilman Allen Kurdyla
Councilman Matthew Moench
Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose
Bridgewater Township Municipal Building
100 Commons Way
Bridgewater, New Jersey 08807
RE: Statement in Support of the Al Falah Center
Dear Mayor Flannery and Members of the Bridgewater Township Council:
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) strongly supports the Chughtai Foundation’s application to create the Al Falah Islamic Center in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Furthermore, AALDEF strongly objects to the proposed zoning ordinance for houses of worship in Bridgewater, which was created for the sole purpose of denying Muslims in Bridgewater a place to peacefully practice their religion.
Founded in 1974, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) is a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans. By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all. AALDEF has worked closely with American Muslim communities in the New Jersey/New York area and across the United States to challenge discriminatory government policies targeting these communities, especially after 9/11 and has provided legal advice and representation of thousands of individuals affected by these policies.
As President Barack Obama said, “Since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they’ve excelled in our sports arenas, they’ve won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch.” (Remarks by the President on a New Beginning (June 4, 2009), available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/thepressoffice/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Cairo-University-6-04-09.) The Muslims living in Bridgewater are no different, and provide strength and diversity to the Bridgewater community.
The proposed zoning ordinance restricting the building of houses of worship in residential areas is clearly directed against the Al Falah Center’s proposal, and goes against the history of religious tolerance and freedom provided by the Founding Fathers and enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In fact, recognizing that cities may attempt to restrict the building of houses of worship by creating seemingly “neutral” zoning ordinances, like the one proposed in Bridgewater, in 2000, the United States Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (Pub. L 106-274, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 et seq.)(RLUIPA) to ensure that religious groups were not denied the right to build places where their congregants could worship in peace. Specifically, RLUIPA states that “no government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution …” (42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-5(a)) In dozens of cities and towns across the United States, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and members of other faiths have used RLUIPA to ensure their cities do not pass zoning ordinances that clearly deny them the right to practice their religion. (See U.S. Department of Justice, Report on the Tenth Anniversary of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (Sept. 22, 2010).)
It is clear that the proposed zoning ordinance violates RLUIPA and will impose a substantial burden on the ability of Bridgewater Muslims to worship in peace. AALDEF strongly urges you to uphold the great American principle of religious liberty, accept the application to build the Al Falah Center, and deny the proposed ordinance on houses of worship, which clearly violates American law and values.