Bernards Township, NJ, officials will pay a Muslim organization $3.25 million under the terms of a federal lawsuit.
The details of the award and its stipulations were released Tuesday. On top of having to write a large check, Bernards Township officials agreed to provide diversity and inclusion training for its current and future planning board and local committee members.
The lawsuit was the culmination of four years of failed efforts by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge to construct a mosque.
In order to obtain the go-ahead for construction, the Islamic Society attended Bernards Township planning board meetings 39 times over the course of four years.
Despite ‘bending over backwards’ to conform to each requirement laid down by the planning board, the Society had its application rejected in December of 2015.
Shortly afterward, in March of 2016, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge filed a lawsuit; they were joined a plaintiff by the federal Justice Department.
Monday’s ruling settles the lawsuits brought both by the federal government and the Islamic Society.
The case gained some notoriety partially because due to blatant stalling on the part of Bernards Township officials. Accusations arose that the planning board was intentionally tossing up leaps and hurdles for the Muslim congregation and holding it to more rigorous – and made-up – standards than other faiths.
The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, which had selected the spot in Bernards Township due it being zoned for ‘houses of worship,’ hadn’t likely expected such an uphill battle.
“Federal law requires towns to treat religious land use applications like any other land use application,” said the acting U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, William E. Fitzpatrick. “Bernards Township made decisions that treated the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge differently than other houses of worship. The settlement announced today corrects those decisions and ensures that members of this religious community have the same ability to practice their faith as all other religions.”
According to CNN, the complaint brought forward by the Department of Justice, then under the governance of Obama-appointed officials, was applying standards to the Islamic Society that it hadn’t for other faiths.
Court documents note that the controversy generated by the proposed mosque construction stirred up a hotpot of bigotry, with “fliers, social media and websites [denouncing] the mosque and (were) filled with anti-Muslim bigotry and references to terrorism and the 9/11 attacks.”
The Islamic Society had agreed to reduce its number of parking spots, place limits on offsite parking, restrict lighting and audio emissions from minarets, and institute a small total occupancy limit before its application was denied.
Bernards Township officials maintained in statements post-settlement that they hadn’t intentionally discriminated against the Islamic Society and were simply making use of local ordinances to ensure proper zoning.
Ali Chaudry, the president of the mosque and, ironically, Bernards Township’s former mayor, said of the settlement, “We are very pleased by this resolution and hope to receive prompt approval to build our mosque.”
“We look forward to welcoming people of all faiths and backgrounds to our he mosque,” he said. “Our doors will be open to anyone interested in building bridges to promote harmony in the community and peace in the world.”