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[Gadeir Abbas is a staff attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]
This year, the Muslim community of Murfreesboro, Tenn., will likely be able to open its doors in time to share Ramadan together in the mosque they built, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM).
Houses of worship are built and opened all the time, but this one has acquired special significance. In opening its doors in spite of unprecedented obstacles and opposition, the mosque serves as a lasting testament to America's abiding commitment to religious freedom.
The obstacles and opposition to ICM opening its doors were breathtaking. Shortly after ICM received permission to begin construction, a viciously anti-Muslim groundswell rose up to oppose it. The protests were ugly.
Mosque opponents leveled accusations of treason and disloyalty, fueled by the bigoted notion that Muslims are somehow inherently predisposed to violence and subterfuge. The humble mosque even became a campaign issue. While running for governor, Ron Ramsey questioned "whether being a Muslim is actually a religion."
This wasn't the worst of it. Mosque opponents spray painted "not welcome" on a sign announcing ICM's future location. Construction equipment was set ablaze. And there was a bomb threat against Muslims worshiping in Murfreesboro.
Then came the legal assault. Four individuals appeared before state court Judge Robert Corlew, asking him to stop ICM from finishing construction of the mosque. And disappointingly, Judge Corlew turned his court into a circus, allowing the likes of Frank Gaffney to pedal anti-Muslim conspiracy theories as a witness, and attorney Joe Brandon to make outrageous claims that ICM, because of its affiliation with Islam, is a threat to Tennessee.
In a shocking setback, Judge Corlew utilized a heightened "Muslim-only" standard he concocted to prevent ICM from using its mosque. Judge Corlew's discriminatory standard effectively required government to provide greater notice to the public regarding zoning decisions for Muslim houses of worship than those affiliated with other faiths.
Predictably, in applying this discriminatory standard, Judge Corlew found that, for ICM, the government's notice was not robust enough to meet the more onerous standard he created. The judge then refused to allow ICM to receive permission to use the mosque that it built.
All of this is a lot for a single community to handle. But vandalism and violence, discriminatory government acts, and baseless smears--these expressions of religious intolerance will always, to some degree, be present in our society. The true test of America's commitment to religious freedom is not whether discriminatory things happen but how the country's institutions respond. And here, our institutions performed admirably.
The Department of Justice indicted Javier Alan Correa who federal prosecutors believe threatened to bomb ICM. The hate speech of anti-Muslim mosque opponents was countered by more speech refuting irrational fear with rational argument. And Judge Corlew's discriminatory decision preventing ICM from using its building was invalidated just hours after the Department of Justice filed suit on ICM's behalf.
It wasn't pretty, but the system worked. Muslims in Murfreesboro will be able to worship in their community, just as the First Amendment of our Constitution envisioned centuries ago.
ISLAM-OPED: The System Worked for Tennessee Muslims
ISLAM-OPED is a syndication service of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) designed to offer an American Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues. ISLAM-OPED commentaries are offered free-of-charge to one media outlet in each market area. Permission for publication will be granted on a first-come-first-served basis.
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