After months of legal wrangling and hyperbolic rhetoric, a Rutherford County chancery court judge has approved the construction of the controversial Murfreesboro mosque that has inflamed conservatives wary of domestic-based jihadist training camps. The conservative anti-Muslim backlash led to much in the way of national derision.
In an order filed today, Judge Robert Corlew permitted construction to continue on the site of the planned 6,800-square-foot Islamic center, despite also ruling that the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act on grounds that insufficient notice was given in advance of public hearings on the proposal.
The suburban mosque first came under fire two years ago, around the same time as the uproar over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in New York City. Opponents tried to draw connections between the Murfreesboro mosque and terrorism, and argued Islam is not a constitutionally protected religion.
The judge threw out that argument, but voided the county’s approval of the mosque under the state’s Open Meetings Act. The order out today (pdf) includes a footnote, saying it does not mean construction has to stop. It says such an order would have to be taken up separately. Meanwhile, the mosque’s first phase of construction is set to finish in July.
The ruling effectively swats down the intention of plaintiff Kevin Fisher, a columnist for the anti-Islamic Rutherford Reader, to halt construction on the mosque under order of an injunction.
"The plaintiffs propose that the Court enter an injunction against the Court, mandatory in nature, directing the County officials and third parties to cease construction [on the mosque]," wrote Corlew. "The court notes, however, that such is not now a part of this action, and, in fact should be the subject of separate matters."
Whether that means the planning process will start over again, or if Fisher and company plan to file an appeal, remains to be seen.
Doug Demosi, planning director for the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission, tells Pith that it's too early to tell what the next phase in the process will be.
"At this time, we still have to meet with our legal staff to determine what our next steps are," Demosi says.