Federal Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order Authorizing Opening of Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Mosque

The mosque had aroused a great deal of public opposition; the county planning authorities nonetheless granted the necessary building permits; but a state court ruled that the county hadn’t given sufficient notice to the public about its meetings, given the heightened public interest in the mosque. The court therefore blocked the issuance of an occupancy permit, partly on the theory that, in such cases of especially great public interest, a heightened level of notice was required.

But a federal district court has just temporarily stayed that state court order, and thus let the mosque start functioning. The district court’s key point, I think, was that the state court’s heightened notice standard treated the building projects of controversial religions worse than those of religions that don’t arouse public hostility, and thus violated the requirement that religious institutions be treated equally:

Compliance with the State Court’s Orders imposes a heightened notice requirement regarding the mosque which substantially burdens the Islamic Center’s free exercise of religion without a compelling governmental interest.

I’m inclined to think that the district court’s analysis was correct: Just as the law may not impose greater permit fees for controversial parades (see Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992)) — even when those parades do require greater security expenses — so the law may not impose greater procedural hurdles (including public notice requirements for planning board hearings) for controversial churches, even when those churches do arouse greater public interest in the hearings.

For more on the case, see the Becket Fund press release and legal argument. The Becket Fund sued on behalf of the mosque, but the federal government also sued as well.