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VOL. 37 | NO. 5 | Friday, February 01, 2013
Attorneys file response in public notice dispute
MURFREESBORO (AP) - Attorneys say the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County government should not be exempt from giving notice of public meetings under religious land use laws.
According to The Daily News Journal (http://on.dnj.com/11Fp5mv), the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission is appealing a Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling that said the county failed to provide adequate public notice prior to approving the Muslim congregation's 2010 plans to build a bigger mosque.
Plaintiff's attorneys Joe Brandon and Tom Smith recently filed a response to the planning commission's appeal of the ruling. Brandon says it should not be a substantial burden for the county to follow public notice laws.
"That's laughable that compliance with the open-meeting law is a land-use regulation," Brandon said.
Planning commission attorney Josh McCreary expects the appeals court to assign a date for oral arguments some time in s pring.
The county used The Murfreesboro Post to give public notice of the time, date and location of the meeting that involved the mosque construction plans.
However, Chancellor Robert Corlew III ruled that using the free newspaper, which didn't circulate in the driveways of homes outside Murfreesboro city limits, wasn't an adequate way to give notice.
Corlew also noted that the county failed to include the agenda for the meeting on the government's website in advance of the meeting.
Saleh Sbenaty, a member of the mosque's board of directors, contends the plaintiffs have no case.
"Our constitutional right has been violated because we have been discriminated against," said Sbenaty, a 20-year Middle Tennessee State University professor in the department of engineering technology.
Prior to the appeal, Corlew suggested that the county place the mosque back on a future agenda, give proper notice and vote on the construction plans without violati ng the congregation's religious land-use rights.
Corlew's ruling voided the previous planning commission decision and prohibited the county from issuing a certificate of occupancy to the congregation until the site plans could be reviewed again.
U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell overruled Corlew in late July. Campbell ordered the county to work with the center on issuing the occupancy permit to allow the congregation to get into the new mosque by the start of Ramadan in late July.
The congregation's building was not ready in July, but the center was able to obtain the permit and move in by August.
The U.S. Department of Justice also sued Rutherford County in July, claiming violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.
The plaintiffs then filed to enter the federal case, and U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp ruled in August that their public notice complaint could be pursued in court.