Bernards Township, New Jersey has invited the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge to resubmit an application to develop a mosque. Earlier this year, the Township denied the Islamic Society’s application for a 4,250 square foot mosque after more than 39 public hearing sessions over the course of about 4 years. The Township’s protracted review of the application culminated in denial for a variety of reasons – parking, insufficient buffers, storm water management, and emergency access. The Islamic Society claims that it expended $450,000 in the protracted review process. In March of this year, the Islamic Society filed a 112 page federal complaint suing the Township for violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the U.S. Constitution, among other laws. Former Township mayor and president of the Islamic Society, Ali Chaudry, is also a plaintiff in the case.
The Islamic Society’s complaint alleges that anti-Muslim animus caused the Township to deny its application. The United States Department of Justice has confirmed that it is investigating whether religious discrimination played a role.
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the Township issued a written response:
Bernards Township is an inclusive and warm community. The allegations in the lawsuit do not represent our community. It is not unusual for an applicant to appeal a denial, and it is their right. The Planning Board made its decision and now the court will decide whether to uphold that decision. We look forward to a satisfactory resolution of this matter.
Since the filing of the lawsuit, the Township’s Planning Board has issued a resolution giving the Islamic Society 90 days to refile an application for a mosque. The Islamic Society filed in federal court a motion to quash the Planning Board’s resolution, and has stated that it will not submit a new application. The Planning Board’s resolution is especially interesting, given that RLUIPA contains a “safe harbor” provision that allows municipalities to take action to correct any statutory violations to escape liability. Read more about the safe harbor provision here.
On May 6, the Islamic Society filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings – arguing that it should win the case based on the paper filings. In the motion, the Islamic Society contends that the Township violated RLUIPA by requiring the proposed mosque to have more than triple the amount of parking spaces required – a requirement that had never been applied to any other applicant. It also alleges that the parking ordinance is unconstitutionally vague. The Township has until June 20 to file a response.