A New Jersey Township Wielded Its Zoning Rules as a Barrier to Islam

In Religious Intolernace On

This week, there is still no mosque — but five years of hearings and litigation about the proposal are drawing to a close. The Township Committee and Planning Board voted Tuesday night to settle lawsuits brought by the Department of Justice and the Islamic Society. Details of the settlement were not announced, but it will include the building permit long denied to the organization.

A federal judge ruled in December that the township and its officials had openly violated the Muslims’ rights.

“Defendants’ express discrimination on the basis of religion warrants the highest protection of the Free Exercise Clause,” Judge Michael A. Shipp of Federal District Court wrote in a 57-page decision that cited a federal anti-discrimination statute and the vague standards in the township’s law.

At issue was an official demand that the mosque provide 107 parking spots for its 150 worshipers, instead of the ratio of one spot for every three users required of the township’s churches, synagogues, restaurants and auditoriums.

The Planning Board’s parking requirement for the mosque set off an avalanche: If the Islamic Society were to devote as much of its land to parking as the board demanded, it would not be able to comply with mandates for drainage and lighting.

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