Alleges Township Broke Law, Stifled Religious Freedom
The Al Falah Center brought suit today against Bridgewater Township (NJ), seeking to compel the town to allow Al Falah to move forward with plans to renovate an existing building so it could be used as a mosque and community center. These plans were derailed recently when the Township suddenly altered its zoning laws, transforming the applicable zoning for the proposed mosque property to prohibit rather than permit development of a house of worship.
The complaint, which was filed in federal district court in New Jersey, alleges that the new zoning ordinance prevents members of the Muslim community from freely exercising their religion and discriminates against them on the basis of religion. After a years-long search to find a suitable location to establish a mosque and Islamic community center, Muslims from Bridgewater and surrounding communities finally identified an ideal location–a former banquet hall in Bridgewater. For months the Al Falah Center worked with township officials to develop a suitable plan to renovate the building, which was located in a zone permitting houses of worship, into a mosque to serve the surrounding area as a house of worship, day care, religious school, and community center.
But then–following an anti-Muslim internet campaign–hundreds of people showed up to protest the mosque project at a Planning Board meeting to consider the proposal, and the Township suddenly changed course. Rather than approve the Al Falah Center’s plan as required by existing zoning laws, Bridgewater illegally rushed through a change to its zoning rules. The Township cited supposed traffic concerns; but the Township’s own documents and actions, as detailed in the complaint, show that these concerns were not real and were not the reason for the zoning changes.
The complaint alleges that in changing the law to exclude the mosque Bridgewater violated the Al Falah Center’s federal constitutional rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the corresponding protections of New Jersey’s Constitution. A number of federal and state statutory claims are also alleged in the complaint, including multiple violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.
Al Falah is represented by Archer & Greiner, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Brennan Center for Justice, and its pro bono partner Arnold & Porter, LLP, which is lead counsel. The complaint can be viewed here.