The Department of Justice today filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where opponents of a new mosque are trying to stop its construction. In the brief, the DOJ declares that Islam is a religion and is entitled to freedom of expression.
In a press release, the U.S. attorney for the middle district of Tennessee, Jerry E. Martin, acknowledged that the lawsuit is a “local matter,” but that the DOJ wants to “vigorously support” the decision of local authorities to grant the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro building permits.
The center, which has been operating in Murfreesboro for decades, has outgrown its current facility and is building a larger community center and mosque just outside the city. In addition to the legal opposition, the mosque has faced vandalism and arson, and the head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division recently visited area Muslims as a gesture of support.
Opponents of the mosque, who have sued the planning commission and other county officials, have argued that it shouldn’t have been granted a religious use permit because, according to them, Islam isn’t really a religion.
“To suggest that Islam is not a religion is quite simply ridiculous. Each branch of the federal government has independently recognized Islam as one of the major religions of the world,” Martin said in the press release.
The brief painstakingly cites proof, from the Oxford English Dictionary, Supreme Court rulings, presidential proclamations by Clinton and George W. Bush and the writings of Thomas Jefferson, that Islam has long been recognized as a major world religion.
It also notes the definition of religion set forth by other federal courts, including that a belief system must address “fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters” in order to be considered a religion.
In the brief, the DOJ argues that the lawsuit implicates two federal civil rights statutes, the Religious Land Use Act and the Church Arson Prevention Act, which fall under the DOJ’s purview. The county, the brief argues, would be in danger of violating the land use act were it to deny building permits for the mosque.
Read the DOJ’s brief here: