Bridgewater, NJ – The Al Falah Center can now move forward with its application to build a mosque and community center in Bridgewater, NJ, ruled Federal District Judge Michael A. Shipp on Monday. The judge granted AlFalah’s motion for a preliminary injunction in Al Falah Center v Township of Bridgewater and denied almost every aspect of the Township’s motion for summary judgment.
Al Falah is represented by Arnold & Porter, LLP, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and Archer & Greiner.
The Al Falah case is being watched closely across the nation, as mosques from New York to Tennessee face opposition. In the decade after the September 11th attack, the Justice Department opened more than 28 investigations into efforts to interfere with the construction of mosques and Islamic centers.
“We’re very pleased that the court ruled that Bridgewater Township could not enforce Ordinance 11–03, which was passed precisely to block this mosque. We look forward to seeing the hopes of the Al Falah Center community realized when the mosque and Islamic community center open in Bridgewater,” said Peter Zimroth, a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP and a member of the legal team representing the mosque.
“Judge Shipp has given heart to Americans who are trying to exercise their constitutional right to worship freely. This ruling is also a cautionary tale for city councils that often face great pressure to block mosques for reasons that have nothing to do with zoning and everything to do with fear,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“The Court’s decision demonstrates that the prejudice against Muslims continues and infects the decisions of politicians in Bridgewater and across the nation,” said Ken Kimerling, AALDEF Legal Director. “Muslims like all Americans should be able to establish their religious institutions without fear of intolerance.”
“I’m very pleased that the court’s decision restores the status quo. The mosque application met all house of worship criteria until Ordinance 11–03 was reactively and hastily adopted to divest the Planning Board of jurisdiction. Al Falah, like any denomination, deserves a home,” said Lloyd Tubman, a partner with Archer & Greiner and Al Falah’s land use lawyer.
After years of searching for a location for the local Muslim community to pray, Al Falah purchased a property in Bridgewater, NJ, that met its requirements. The site of the former Redwood Inn had the space to become a mosque and community center and was located in an area that was zoned to allow such a facility. But following an anti-Muslim internet campaign, hundreds of people showed up to protest the mosque project at a Planning Board meeting to consider the proposal. In response, the town of Bridgewater illegally rushed through a change to its zoning rules that effectively blocked the mosque. The Township cited supposed traffic concerns, but the Township’s own documents and actions show that these concerns were not legitimate and were not the real reason for the zoning changes.
The suit, filed on April 26, 2011, alleged that in changing the law to exclude the mosque, Bridgewater violated the Al Falah Center’s federal constitutional rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the corresponding protections of New Jersey’s Constitution. A number of federal and state statutory claims are also alleged in the complaint, including multiple violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). In June 2011, the Court denied Bridgewater’s motion to dismiss the suit. And on September 30, 2013, Judge Shipp issued a decisive ruling for Al Falah enjoining the town from applying the new discriminatory law to its mosque application. In doing so, Judge Shipp found that Al Falah had not only demonstrated irreparable injury to the Muslim community that had been deprived of a house of worship for years, but had also demonstrated that it was likely to succeed on the merits of at least its statutory claim.