As we reported earlier, the DOJ filed an amicus brief Monday in a lawsuit filed by a handful of opponents to the new mosque. The plaintiffs are suing the county to block the mosque's construction, claiming that county officials broke open meeting law in approving the mosque's building permits.
Neither the county attorney nor the plaintiffs' attorney returned a request for comment.
The mosque opponents have also argued extensively that Islam does not qualify as a religion.
The DOJ disagreed.
"We appreciate the support that we got from the U.S. attorney's office, and we strongly believe in the Constitution of this great nation," Sbenaty told TPMmuckraker. "We believe that justice and law will prevail."
The DOJ filed the brief, even though it's a local lawsuit, in order to clarify the law, according to a spokeswoman. It did so under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which dictates that the government can't impose land use regulations that would restrict the practice of a religion.
The DOJ has only filed such a brief in trial court under that law one other time: In 2007, when the Albanian Associated Fund sued Wayne, N.J., for trying to use eminent domain to take land it wanted to build a mosque on. The DOJ interjected, saying in its brief that the town's actions "have the classic trademarks of discriminatory purpose." (The case was settled in 2008 when the fund sold its land to the town.)
Unlike the Wayne case, however, officials in Tennessee have not attempted to block the mosque; it's local residents who have sued to stop its construction.