The Al Falah Center reached a settlement agreement with Bridgewater Township this week that will allow Al Falah to move forward with its plans to build a mosque in Bridgewater, ending a three year land use dispute. The settlement includes a $5 million payment from the Township’s insurance carrier for alleged damages, costs and attorney fees in exchange for Al Falah’s dropping its lawsuit against the township. The settlement represents a significant step in Al Falah Center’s goal to build the first mosque in Bridgewater Township.
“We applaud the Mayor and the Council for entering into this agreement and look forward to working cooperatively with them to reach our objective,” said Yasser Abdelkader, President of Al Falah Center. “And we want to thank our legal team who stood by us throughout.”
Al Falah Center is represented by The Brennan Center for Justice, Arnold & Porter LLP, Archer & Greiner, P.C., and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
A Federal District Judge granted a preliminary injunction in Al Falah Center v Township of Bridgewater in October 2013, allowing the Al Falah Center to move forward with its application to build a mosque and community center in Bridgewater, NJ.
See the case page here.
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.
Following this ruling, the parties engaged in extensive settlement negotiations that have now resulted in an agreement designed to allow Al Falah Center to build its house of worship in Bridgewater. Under the terms of the settlement, the Township has agreed to exchange a 10.75 acre piece of land on Route 202/206 in Bridgewater for the Redwood Inn property. The exchange will occur only after Al Falah Center has obtained all approvals necessary to construct a mosque on the new property; if those approvals are not obtained, the settlement provides that the preliminary injunction will be made permanent so that Al Falah Center can pursue the construction of a mosque at the Redwood Inn site without reference to the challenged ordinance.