By Bob Allen
Mosque opponents in Murfreesboro, Tenn., want the county to seize a newly constructed Islamic Center and turn it over to someone else.
J. Thomas Smith, an attorney for citizens asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision that allowed occupancy of the new 12,000-square-foot Islamic Center of Murfreesboro last November, told The Tennessean there would be several acceptable remedies should his clients prevail.
“I think the county would step in and have someone else take it over,” Smith said.
An application for appeal filed July 29 asks the state’s high court to overrule a May 29 opinion of the Tennessee Court of Appeals that notice of the May 24, 2010, meeting of the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission was adequate according to the state’s open meetings law.
That reversed a June 1, 2012, ruling by local Chancellor Robert Corlew III that The Murfreesboro Post, a free-distribution weekly newspaper that carried notice of the meeting in which the planning commission approved plans for the ICM to construct a mosque just outside the Murfreesboro city limits, did not meet the standard requiring that such legal ads be purchased in a newspaper with “general circulation.”
While the lawsuit’s main argument is that citizens were denied proper notice to voice their objections before the project’s approval, it also objects to Corlew’s refusal to allow the testimony by two expert witnesses called to testify about alleged “Sharia-Jihad” risks related to the Islamic congregation that had been meeting in a smaller facility within Murfreesboro for about 30 years.
“The issue of the risk to public safety from the Sharia/Jihad teaching and practices of a regional Islamic training center such as the ICM was the major factual issue dealt with by the Court in its November 2010 opinion,” the Supreme Court document says.
Corlew said testimony by former Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Gaffney about “red flags of terrorism” connected to the mosque was inadmissible, because Islam is a religion and entitled to the same right to construct a building as a church.
Corlew also disallowed testimony about a member of the board’s mosque who posted pictures of leaders of Hamas – which the U.S. government classifies as a terrorist group – on his website, authors that appeared and then were removed on an ICM “reading list,” and unanswered letters to the mosque’s imam from local Muslims who converted to Christianity seeking assurance they would not be targeted with a Fatwa of death as infidels.
The ICM website extends an open invitation to neighbors and members of the community.
“We encourage you to visit, call or e-mail us with any questions that you may have,” it says. “We extend an open invitation to anyone who wishes to stop by and observe our weekly prayers. We would also be happy to accommodate your requests for a guest speaker to visit your congregation, event, class or organization.”
“Let us stand together and build bridges rather than barriers, openness rather than walls,” the message continues. “Rather than borders, let us look at distant horizons together, in the common spirit of the value and dignity of a shared personhood as citizens in this great nation.”
A spokesperson for the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office said she was unaware of any criminal complaints against the new mosque.
Mosque members cannot say the same. Even before construction someone vandalized a sign at the future mosque site by spray painting it with the phrase “Not Welcome.” A second sign vandalism occurred later, and finally somebody set fire to heavy construction equipment parked on the lot for site clearing.
In 2011, the Islamic Center received a bomb threat in a profanity-laced phone call threatening that a bomb would be placed in the facility on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In June, Javier Alan Corre of Corpus Christi, Texas, apologized to the imam and mosque leaders and pleaded guilty to a federal charge.
Corre, 25, said he had been drinking and wasn’t thinking clearly when he made the call, and that he understands that all Muslims are not terrorists.