Saturday, July 29, 2006

Muslim group sues town over effort to build mosque

Associated Press Writer

July 18, 2006, 5:07 PM EDT

NEWARK, N.J. -- A Muslim group has sued a northern New Jersey town, charging that the municipality is discriminating against them by trying to seize its land after stalling its efforts to construct a mosque.

The federal lawsuit by the Albanian Associated Fund accused Wayne of violating religious protections in the U.S. and New Jersey constitutions, as well as a 2000 federal law designed to protect religious institutions against discrimination in land use applications.

Wayne Mayor Scott T. Rumana denied the township was trying to keep a mosque out, saying the land was needed for open space and that the township has suggested other sites.

"You've got an environmentally sensitive piece of property you are dealing with," Rumana said, adding it has steep slopes and lots of rock. "It's a pristine open parcel," he said.

He said the township notified the group in spring of its intention to use condemnation proceedings in light of a state court ruling last summer that allowed property to be taken to preserve open space.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Newark, asks that eminent domain proceedings be put on hold so that the Muslim group's arguments can be evaluated by the court.

The Albanian Associated Fund in 2001 bought the property, which is in an area zoned for houses of worship, and submitted a development plan in 2002, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based law firm that filed the lawsuit for the Muslim group.

"Just when it seems that there were no more hoops to jump through, the township of Wayne said that they needed to preserve the land for _ quote _ open space," said Becket legal counsel Jared N. Leland.

"AAF is not asking for special consideration," said one of their lawyers, Roman P. Storzer. "This group is entitled to the same protections of the law as any church or synagogue."

The lawsuit charged that the unreasonable delay before eminent domain proceedings began cost the Muslim group three and a half years and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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