In an ongoing battle against anti-Muslim paranoia in Tennessee, Rutherford County has spent $343,276 in court costs so far to defend itself against plaintiffs upset about a mosque’s construction. This is according to a report earlier this month in the Daily News Journal about the controversy over the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. The total cost is expected to increase after an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The mosque has been the subject of a frivolous lawsuit since 2010 after protestors, who wanted to stop construction, claimed the county failed to provide adequate notice of the meeting where it was approved. Although a local chancery court judge initially ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, a federal court later intervened and found the decision was in violation of the First Amendment. Opponents are now appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. This is after the Tennessee Supreme Court refused to hear it. Their hope is the case will be heard on the basis that a federal court intervened in a state matter, violating the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine. However, the appeal will still cost the county regardless of whether the case is heard or not.
The decision to appeal to the Supreme Court resulted in a major setback for the opponents after they tried to block the mosque, which opened in August 2012, from adding a cemetery. Members of the congregation appealed to the Rutherford zoning commission requesting to have a cemetery on the grounds. Following the request, all the same plaintiffs filed a restraining order asking that the decision be postponed until after the Supreme Court’s decision. However, a local judge ruled he no longer had jurisdiction to consider pleadings filed by the plaintiffs. The cemetery was later approved.
The plaintiff’s attempts to mar the mosque’s progress reflect the efforts of the organized anti-Muslim movement. Kevin Fisher, a plaintiff and organizer, said this was not about religion, but instead about the increased traffic the mosque would bring. Citing technical municipal issues to avoid accusations of bigotry is a tactic championed by anti-Muslim figurehead Pamela Geller. She notes mosques are being built on quiet residential streets and “the way to play those fights is parking, sewage, city zoning. That’s how you win those fights.” Another plaintiff, Lisa Moore, has collaborated with members of the anti-Muslim grassroots organization ACT! for America. Moore co-wrote a column in a community newspaper with a member of ACT! claiming children are being indoctrinated by Islamic bias in textbooks. Attempting to ban textbooks that allegedly proselytize for Islam is one of the group’s main efforts. They continue to have a strong presence in Tennessee.
The amount of public money spent defending the Murfreesboro mosque is nothing short of unacceptable, and has shown the amount of money these plaintiffs are willing to waste to further their own agenda.