A religious liberty case that sparked controversy after two Southern Baptist Convention agencies filed legal briefs supporting the right of Muslims to build a mosque in New Jersey has been settled.
Bernards Township, N.J., will pay $3.25 million in damages and attorney’s fees to the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge in a settlement resolving two lawsuits announced May 30 by the U.S. Justice Department. It clears the way for construction of a 4,252-square-foot mosque on 4.3 acres after nearly four years of red tape spanning 39 planning board meetings and vocal opposition in the community.
“Federal law protects people of all religious communities from discrimination and unlawful obstacles when they seek to build a place of worship,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Through this agreement, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and its members will be able to build a mosque and exercise the fundamental American right of freedom of worship.”
A year ago the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and International Mission Board joined a multi-faith coalition that also included the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in a friend-of-the-court brief arguing for the Muslims filed by Becket, a nonprofit, public interest legal and educational institution based in Washington.
“A Muslim mosque cannot be subjected to a different land-use approval process than a Christian church simply because local protesters oppose the mosque,” said the brief claiming the township violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 when it denied the Islamic Center’s zoning application in December 2015.
A trustee of the International Mission Board resigned after learning the brief was filed, saying it was inconsistent for the agency to seek to evangelize Muslims around the world while aiding Muslims in the United States in propagating their faith. IMB President David Platt later apologized for the controversy and revised the agency’s policy to file amicus briefs that “speak only into situations that are directly tied to our mission.”
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SOURCE: Baptist News Global