Federal ruling bars N.J. township from blocking mosque expansion

Published: Friday, Oct. 4 2013 3:45 p.m. MDT

A federal judge ruled against a New Jersey township, keeping it from imposing a zoning change that blocked a mosque from expanding into a residential neighborhood.

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A federal judge has ruled against a New Jersey township, keeping it from imposing a zoning change that blocked a mosque from expanding into a residential neighborhood.

The decision, according to the Wall Street Journal, represents “a hard-fought victory” for the Al Falah Center, which has sought approval for a new mosque in Bridgewater Township, N.J., for years.

Township officials are now barred from imposing an ordinance that limited “houses of worship to certain major roads,” which also stopped the mosque from being built at the center’s proposed site, Mountain Top Road, according to NJ.com.

A judge on Monday said the township of Bridgewater “failed to justify why the need for the variance outweighed the religious burden it imposed,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The center is "without a permanent spiritual home, which has impeded its growth and its capacity to raise money for its programs," the judge wrote in his 46-page opinion. "Without a permanent mosque, plaintiff is unable to attract a permanent imam, or spiritual leader. These combined factors, among others, have rendered it nearly impossible for Al Falah and its individual members to adhere to the tenets of their religion.”

Now, according to MyCentralJersey.com, Bridgewater will have to reconsider the Al Falah Center’s original application, which included using the site of a former Redwood Inn as a mosque.

The dispute began in 2011 on the heels of a national controversy surrounding a proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque near the World Trade Center site in New York City, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Bridgewater residents wanted the zoning change, the Wall Street journal reported, to protect the neighborhood from traffic, noise, light and reduced air quality. Officials said they planned to draft the change before the mosque submitted its application, according to the Wall Street Journal.

But they didn't draft it. Days after it was reported the center was planning to build a mosque, hundreds of residents and tea party activists gathered for a public hearing to express opposition, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Nearly a month later, Bridgewater wrote the ordinance, which aimed to keep houses of worship to main roads in the township, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“The mosque alleged that township officials scrambled to change its zoning rules to scuttle the project, claiming the ordinance was motivated by anti-Muslim prejudice,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Peter Zimroth, one of the attorneys representing the center, told NJ.com the process should be a little smoother after the judge's ruling.

“Once the illegal ordinance is removed, which the judge has done, there is no reason why the application should not be approved very quickly,” he said.

Email: hscribner@deseretnews.com

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