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Wayne Law professor adds his name to support Muslim congregation

July 21, 2012

                Wayne Law Assistant Professor Christopher Lund has added his name to a letter in support of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tenn., where a local judge and residents have tried to halt the opening of a new mosque for the growing Muslim community there.

                For two years, construction of the center has drawn controversy in the city of 110,000 people in Rutherford County, about 30 miles from Nashville. Vandals have marred signs and set fire to equipment; bomb threats have been made and protests have been held.
                Opponents to the mosque filed suit in state court to stop it from opening, and in May, Chancellor Robert Corlew III ruled that the building plans were “void and of no effect,” saying the county had failed to give proper public notice about the project. The federal Justice Department and the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro filed separate lawsuits, seeking county permits to allow the mosque to open in time for Ramadan. In an emergency hearing on July 18, U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell ordered the county to move forward with the permitting process, and ruled that the constitutional rights of mosque members to practice their religion had been violated.
                The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit legal and public-interest institute, has been representing the mosque members, and on July 18, issued a letter in support of the congregation’s religious freedom. The letter has hundreds of signatories, including many religious groups of all faiths, the American Civil Liberties Union, and noted law professors, including Lund, who has worked with the Becket Fund on other issues.
                “They often represent religious minorities,” Lund said. “They’ve had some significant wins on behalf of Muslims, Jews and Hindus… I have written some articles about religious freedom that they found helpful and interesting, and we have worked together on a number of cases over the years.”
                The professor, whose principal academic interest is in religious liberty, said the Becket Fund’s letter expresses well his feelings about the situation in Murfreesboro.
                “America has a strong tradition of religious liberty,” he said. “In many ways, the rest of the world inherited it from us. We were one of the first nations that allowed religious minorities to openly practice their religions. That was so important that the Framers decided we wouldn’t have an established church. But there is a counter-tradition, as well. Baptists and Presbyterians were persecuted by the Anglicans in Virginia in the 18th century. Catholics and Jews had a hard time in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. Muslims and atheists often face governmental discrimination and private contempt today. We need to remember that every religious group has been a persecuted minority, that there was a time and place when we ourselves would have been persecuted. When we are at our best, Americans are strikingly tolerant of people that are very different than them. But we need to be at our best more often.”
                Here is the July 18 letter from The Becket Fund:
 
July 18, 2012
No congregation should have its right of religious liberty curtailed solely because some of its neighbors disapprove of its religious beliefs.
In 2010, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro sought to build a new mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where they could worship God in peace on their own property. Although it made every effort to reach out to its neighbors in friendship, the congregation was subjected to a campaign of protest and violence, including vandalism, a bomb threat, and even arson.
This campaign of violence was accompanied by a legal campaign in which the congregation’s opponents claimed that the Muslim religion—one of the world’s largest—was not really a religion, but a political movement seeking to impose “sharia” on the United States. As a result of the legal battle, a local judge has issued a ruling forbidding the congregation from entering its newly completed building. After years of following both the letter and the spirit of the law, the congregation is again seeking permission to use its building—this time in the hope that it will be permitted to do so before the start of Ramadan.
We, the undersigned, represent a diverse array of religious beliefs and have disagreements on a wide variety of theological, political, and social matters. But we are united in supporting the right of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro to gather in peace on their own property for their celebration of Ramadan.
We deplore the vandalism, arson, and bomb threats directed at this congregation. No congregation of any religion should ever be the target of violence for any reason.
We recognize that the word “sharia” can be used in a wide variety of ways and can be the subject of vigorous debate within our political and religious communities. But shrill, sensationalist rhetoric about “sharia” should not be used as a pretext to deprive Muslims of their right under the United States Constitution to the free exercise of religion.
We emphatically support the right of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro—on an equal basis with any other type of religious congregation—to build a house of worship in the City of Murfreesboro and to use its own property for religious exercise. We repeat: No congregation should have its right of religious liberty curtailed solely because some of its neighbors disapprove of its religious beliefs. Mosques must be respected and honored just as churches must be respected and honored.
Finally, we call on all Americans of good will to join us in supporting the religious liberty of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. When the liberty of one faith is abridged, the liberty of all faiths—and all citizens—is threatened. Therefore, we stand united in our dedication to the First Amendment, the Constitution, and the inalienable right of religious liberty for all.
 

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