NJ Town Officials Who Blocked Mosque Allegedly Disparaged Muslims In Emails

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Officials who blocked the construction of a proposed mosque in Bernards Township, New Jersey disparaged Muslims and Islam in private emails, according to court documents filed by lawyers for the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (ISBR).

Members of the township committee and planning board called the mosque’s president a “fool,” mocked President Barack Obama as a “Muslim” “man child,” and erroneously said that Islam allows its adherents to “lie for the sake of their religion,” according to excerpts from online diaries and emails sent on their personal accounts. The documents were included in a 77-page court filing submitted Dec. 9 and first highlighted by NJ.com.

The ISBR sued Bernards Township and 15 township officials in March, alleging that they used increasingly esoteric land use issues as an excuse to block construction of the mosque. The suit alleged the township’s stated concerns about parking and stormwater management were just a mask for Islamophobic sentiment. The U.S. Justice Department agreed, filing its own lawsuit against Bernards Township in November.

“Township officials kept moving the goalposts by using ever-changing local requirements to effectively deny this religious community the same access as other faiths,” U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul J. Fishman said when the DOJ suit was announced.

The ISBR’s lawyers requested in the filing that the township search officials’ personal emails and social media accounts for evidence that they blocked the ISBR’s request intentionally or harbored negative feelings towards Islam.

In a personal online diary entry cited in the filing, an unnamed planning board staffer wrote, “Yes, this application was treated differently.” In the same entry, the staffer cited incidents of the ISBR receiving unequal treatment before the planning board in regards to purported fire safety concerns.

The staffer also wrote that local officials made “discriminatory comments” about Muslims, including a remark by an unnamed township fire official that “they are allowed to lie for the sake of their religion.”

Emails cited in the filing show township committee and planning board members used their personal accounts to discuss how to keep ISBR president Mohammad Chaudry, a former Bernards Township mayor, from participating in a 9/11 memorial ceremony.

“Let’s work on something to freeze him out or be plain about why he is an unacceptable participant and [fi]nd a real moderate Muslim. There must be one,” township committee member John Carpenter wrote to other officials in one email chain. “We shouldn’t look the other way on his views – we owe that to our dead residents. Let’s make it happen without that fool.”

ISBR lawyers said in the filing that the township had previously denied that many of these documents existed, and that they only obtained copies of the documents after asking for all of the documents that the township had provided to DOJ.

In an email to NJ.com, the township’s current mayor, Carol Bianchi, wrote that she would not “join plaintiffs in their constant attempts to try this case in the media” and instead allow attorneys to review the documents themselves.

Bianchi was not mayor during the four-year dispute over the mosque’s construction, but was on the planning board at that time and is named as a defendant in the ISBR suit.

The Islamic center first sought approval for a mosque in Bernards Township in 2012. After years of working with the town to address various parking, traffic and buffer zone issues—and after a loud, often xenophobic campaign by residents against the mosque—the group’s application was unanimously denied in 2015.

Read the filing and the relevant electronic exchanges below:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.
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