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Judge rules for Tenn. mosque

Nov. 18, 2010

By Lucas Johnson II
Associated Press

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- A judge refused Wednesday to stop construction of a proposed mosque in Tennessee that was opposed by some local residents who tried to argue that there was a conspiracy by Muslims to impose extremist law on the United States.

Opponents filed a lawsuit claiming that Rutherford County planning officials violated Tennessee's open meetings law when they approved the site plan for an Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville.

Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew ruled after closing arguments that he could not find that the "county acted illegally, arbitrarily or capriciously" in approving the plan.

But much of the questioning from plaintiffs' attorney Joe Brandon Jr. was about whether Islam qualified as a religion. He pushed his theory that American Muslims want to replace the Constitution with extremist Islamic law.

Corlew said there was some concern about the public notice requirements and suggested county or state officials look at those requirements. But he said the court did not find that members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro held extremist religious ideas.

Mosque leaders want to expand their facilities to accommodate a growing congregation and currently the proposed site is being prepared but no construction has started. Federal investigators are looking into a dump truck that was set on fire at the construction site earlier this year and the repeated vandalism of a sign announcing the future location of the mosque.

Brandon had his hands on his face and at times was bent over the desk during the judge's ruling. Afterward he briskly walked out of the courtroom without addressing the media.

During the testimony, witnesses pointed out that Islamic Center of Murfreesboro board member Mosaad Rowash previously had pro-Hamas postings on his MySpace page, something the mosque's leaders have not denied. The U.S. government considers Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic political party with an armed wing that has attacked Israel, a terrorist organization.

Brandon said before the ruling that the dispute would continue, however the judge rules. "If the court rules against us, we're not going to stop," he said.

Jim Cope, the attorney for the county, said they will be prepared for any further challenges.

"We will continue to defend the county's rights and interests in seeing the actions that we took were upheld appropriately," he said.