A New Jersey town that rejected a plan by local Muslims to build a mosque by requiring it to have more parking spaces on its property than churches and synagogues is paying the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge $3.25 million in damages and legal fees after reaching a settlement.
In December 2015, Bernards Township officials said the mosque would have to build a “supersized” parking lot, a requirement that has not been applied to other houses of worship in the community. Local Muslims sued the town, arguing that officials were holding them to a different standard from other religious groups in the community. The U.S. Department of Justice also sued the township.
In Islamic Society of Basking Ridge v. Township of Bernards, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp ruled in favor of the Muslim group on Dec. 31, 2016. After that ruling, community officials said they wanted to settle the case.
As part of the settlement, local officials will receive special training about federal laws that protect religious freedom.
The settlement was met with approval from the Muslim community.
“We are very pleased by this resolution and hope to receive prompt approval to build our mosque,” Ali Chaudry, president of the mosque and a former township mayor, told USA Today May 21.
Adeel A. Mangi, lead counsel for the mosque, said he hopes this case will prevent further religious discrimination against Muslims seeking to build houses of worship.
“Municipalities around the country should pay close attention to what happened in Bernards Township,” Mangi said. “The American Muslim community has the legal resources, the allies and the determination to stand up for its constitutional rights in court and will.”