Dear Bernards Township, New Jersey,
Did you ever hear of the Religious Land Use And Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000? Better yet, have you ever heard of The Constitution? Or how about common decency?
It's disheartening to read about another mosque on U.S. soil whose attempts to exist are being stopped because of planning boards whose palpable xenophobia comes slithering out of the woodwork of their town hall buildings.
I'm no newcomer to this problem. My own mosque community, American Islamic Center (AIC) of Chicago, has gone through this nightmare for a few years now. I wrote about it in detail right at the time we filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Des Plaines, IL who denied our bid to purchase a property for our dream mosque. I sat in City Council meetings pleading our case at the podium in front of the city Aldermen. I listened to the transportation experts, attorneys and community members present facts, logic and reason only to be met with blank stares from the committee board members whose negative vote was already splashed clearly across their smug faces.
At our mosque, we should be planning Sunday school events, Eid banquets, prayer services and charity work. Instead, we are consoling each other because we can't get zoning for our mosque like other religious institutions have been allowed for 2 centuries.
This is not a game. I'm an American. My right to worship is guaranteed in The Constitution. My father didn't escape communism because of religious persecution only for his children to suffer it on American soil.
People of reason and people who uphold The Constitution have your number, Bernards Township. Your lame parking excuses have been unsuccessfully used in the past as an islamophobic weapon to stop Muslims from worshiping in communities where people just "don't wanna" let us be there. But that's where the law steps in.
The Religious Land Use And Institutionalized Person's Act (RLUIPA) is reminiscent of the HR laws I upheld during my decades-long career in Human Resources. There are simply inalienable rights that employers and cities alike cannot just trample on- on a whim. You can't just decide you don't want moozlems in your community because it doesn't sit well with you. You can try- as did the City of Des Plaines, IL and Murfreesboro, TN and Bernards Township, NJ and countless others. But if you follow these lawsuits - you will find that these cities are losing them. In the court of law, xenophobia doesn't have a leg to stand on.
And Muslim Americans, take note. We have to get better as a community of being active in politics at all levels, from library boards to city boards. We need Muslims on city zoning committees. All citizens of conscience must demand more of their local leaders and demand that there is no room for bigotry in our city politics.
It's a shame islamophobia has become so bad, we have to sue just to be allowed to worship in our neighborhoods. But if that's what it takes- then we will do what we have to do to uphold our constitutional right to do so.