Source: New Jersey Advance Media
The proposed site is located in a part of the township that, at the time of the society’s zoning request, permitted the construction of places of worship.
“Bernards Township has treated the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge differently than other houses of worship,” U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul J. Fishman said. “(Federal law) ensures that municipalities must treat religious land use applications like any other land use application.
“But here, township officials kept moving the goalposts by using ever-changing local requirements to effectively deny this religious community the same access as other faiths.”
The society filed its application for preliminary and final site plan approval for a 4,252-square-foot mosque to be built on a 4.3-acre site on Church Street in April of 2012.
The application was denied after four years of hearings based on what the board said was a lack of information on parking, traffic plans and buffer zones bordering the site’s neighborhoods. The society filed a federal lawsuit against the township, its Township Committee and planning board in March.
The township, in a statement released Tuesday, said it “maintains that the Planning Board denial was based on legitimate land use and safety concerns which plaintiffs refused, and to this day, refuse to address. To that point, the planning board presented plaintiffs an opportunity for reconsideration to address the land use issues early on, and plaintiffs have shown no interest in complying.”
In its statement, the township claims a professional relationship exists between the head of the society and one of the lead Justice Department investigators, going on to state the investigation “was not conducted in an objective manner designed to seek the truth, but rather only to support and bolster the ongoing (Islamic Society) civil lawsuit.”
The Justice Department’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleges that:
- Bernards Township’s denial of approval for the mosque discriminated against the Islamic Society based on its religion and the religion of its members
- applied standards and procedures on the society that it had not applied to other religious and non-religious assemblies in the past
- and, imposed a substantial burden on the society’s religious exercise.
“Today’s filing by the Department of Justice comes after a lengthy investigation that started in March,” said Mohammad Ali Chaudry, president of the society. “It addresses why Bernards Township denied our mosque application and it eviscerates the township’s claim that the denial was based on legitimate land use issues.