A New Jersey Muslim congregation who planned to build a new mosque and had their proposal rejected say religious intolerance played a role in the decision, according to their federal lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, which was filed on March 10, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (ISBR) says the town of Bernards violated a 2000 law that protects religious institutions from excessive land use regulations, WIPX reports. The congregation had previously bought the property and complied with all of the town's zoning requests before their plan was rejected.
According to the group's suit, their application to the local town planning board took four years and 39 public hearings, during which residents made hostile comments, the New Jersey Law Journal notes. The town also allegedly changed zoning laws on the congregation's property in order to ensure that they would not be allowed to build a mosque. When the property was purchased, a house of worship was one of the permitted uses. According to ISBR, however, the revised ordinance -- which was implemented during the group's application process -- included requirements that made new houses of worship difficult, if not impossible, to build.
ISBR's lawsuit also notes the Islamophobia they reportedly encountered during the application process. Flyers and blog posts, as well as comments at the public hearings, made references to 9/11, terrorism and Muslims mistreating women. The congregation's mailbox was allegedly damaged and vandalized with a sticker reading "ISIS."
"The opposition to ISBR's application to build a mosque in the township reflected, on its face, religious and cultural animus against Muslims," the lawsuit reads, according to the New Jersey Law Journal. "The discriminatory intent was adopted by the board itself and ultimately incorporated into its denial of ISBR's application."
In a statement about the lawsuit, Bernards Mayor Carol Bianchi said the "allegations do not represent [Bernards'] community," adding that Bernards is "inclusive and warm."
ISBR's president, Dr. Mohammad Ali Chaudry, told WPIX that he was disappointed that the situation had to come to this.
"We bent over backwards to try and satisfy every demand made of us, no matter how unreasonable," Chaudry added.