Islamic leaders resurrected an ongoing court battle Thursday to protect their right to build a mosque in Pompano Beach's predominantly black northwest area.
The Islamic Center of South Florida went to Broward County Circuit Court to respond to allegations made by Rodney Wright and ask that they be dismissed. Wright, a Pompano Beach resident, filed suit in May to stop construction of the 29,000-square foot building. He claims the group has ties to terrorists organizations and the building would create a nuisance.
Roderick Hannah, attorney for the Islamic Center, argued that Wright's claims are false and that Pompano Beach approved a zoning change for the project last year. That disproves the suit's claim that the mosque would be a nuisance, said Hannah, who filed a motion to dismiss the suit on June22. "They want you to substitute your judgment for what the city does," Hannah told Judge Jeffrey E. Streitfeld.
Pompano Beach commissioners approved plans for the mosque last year, over the objection of some residents who wanted to see affordable housing there.
Streitfeld didn't make a decision Thursday but is expected to soon. He asked Wright's attorney Larry Klayman why he had not asked the city to resolve the dispute.
"Your pleadings ask me to invalidate the action taken by the City of Pompano Beach," he said. "Your pleadings say the city blew it.... Then you go back to the city not the court."
Klayman said opponents did ask the city to reconsider but were unsuccessful. He said Pompano Beach "didn't do its job." He said citizens should be allowed to challenge a city decision in court, especially when they believe illegal activity may be taking place. "We may as well live in Cuba," Klayman said. "We might as well live in Nazi Germany."
Streitfeld chided Klayman for "standing on a soapbox." He also said Wright filed the lawsuit but lives blocks from the future location of the mosque at 1501 NW 16th Ave. The judge said the lawsuit shows that Wright's parents live near the site.
"Any citizen in Broward County can file this lawsuit," Streitfeld said. "Any citizen in the state of Florida could file this lawsuit."
Wright also names the Council on American Islamic Relations and CAIR Florida, Inc. in the lawsuit. Wright wasn't at the hearing.
Altaf Ali, executive director of the Florida Chapter of CAIR, said the center and its congregants should be protected under the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion. He said those who aren't familiar with Islam's teachings often link them to terrorism.
"I think right now we live in a hostile environment," Ali said. "There's a lot of Islamophobia."