The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Bernards Township, alleging it violated federal law in its denial of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge’s plan to build a mosque. The proposed site is located in a part of the township that, at the time of the society’s zoning request, permitted the construction of places of worship.
“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. “(Federal law) 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 society, led by the former mayor, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Newark earlier in March, accusing the town’s planning board of breaking RLUIPA. The proposal to build the mosque was mooted in Nov. 2011 when Chaudry, a retired AT&T executive who has also served as the township’s mayor, decided with some friends to open a mosque in the township where he has lived for some 40 years and has been on its board of education and has led a task force to create the town’s community center. But the society could not have its mosque proposal sanctioned by the board as the latter rejected it year after year under one ground or the other.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleged that Bernards Township’s denial of approval for the mosque discriminated against the Islamic Society based on its religion and the religion of its members; applied standards and procedures on the Islamic Society that it had not applied to other religious and non-religious assemblies in the past; and imposed a substantial burden on the Islamic Society’s religious exercise. The complaint also alleged that the township violated RLUIPA by amending its zoning ordinance in a manner that imposes unreasonable limitations on all religious assemblies.