U.S. Justice Department sues NJ town over mosque denial
BERNARDS – The Justice Department is suing a Somerset County township where an Islamic group was denied Planning Board approval to build a mosque.
Federal officials say the township discriminated against the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge based on its religion and applied standards and procedures that officials had not applied to other religious groups in the past.
The federal lawsuit also accused the township of violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 by amending its zoning ordinance "in a manner that imposes unreasonable limitations on all religious assemblies."
“As alleged in the complaint, 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. “RLUIPA 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 Islamic group, which is led by a former mayor of the township, earlier this year filed their own lawsuit against the township.
Their planned mosque, proposed for a 4.3-acre residential property the group purchased in the township's Liberty Corner neighborhood, was rejected in December 2015 after nearly three dozen Planning Board meetings over the course of four years.
Residents fiercely opposed the application, citing worries about traffic congestion near a traffic congestion near an elementary school and a fire company.
The township's mayor and attorney could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email email@example.com.