Mosque’s opponents have taken opposite position in court

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PostThu Aug 05, 2010 5:57 am » by sockpuppet

The opponents of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque tried to get New York City to use its landmark preservation powers to prevent the project from getting off the ground. But precisely the same groups — including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) — have a history of arguing in court that local governments can't use laws like that to prevent houses of worship from being built. The ADL still acknowledges that the builders of the facility have the right to construct — but ADL leaders are essentially endorsing the positions of the local officials they've fought in the past by questioning the Muslim group's choice of a venue close to the site of the September 11 terror attacks.

New York City's Landmark Preservation Commission ruled Tuesday that the building at the site of the planned community center and mosque is not a historical landmark, and that its demolition can go forward. A coalition of groups who oppose the construction of the religious center had requested the landmark classification because they say its proximity to the site of the 9/11 attacks is offensive. The center is called Cordoba House; its sponsoring body, the Cordoba Institute, says it opposes radical Islamic groups and that it hopes the space will create interfaith community and understanding.

Oddly, many of the groups leading and supporting the campaign against the so-called mosque have a history of arguing in favor of religious freedom on similar cases.

The American Center for Law and Justice, the legal advocacy group leading the charge, has argued repeatedly and forcefully in federal court on at least three occasions that local land-use laws such as historical landmark designations don't trump the religious and property rights of religious groups to build houses of worship. So has the Anti-Defamation League, which controversially came out in opposition to the mosque last week. The group has filed no less than five amicus briefs in federal court arguing that local governments can't use zoning laws to prevent the building of churches and synagogues.

Indeed, these groups all compose part of a large ecosystem of religious-rights organizations; members of such groups have made frequent use of a federal law that erects significant barriers for local governments seeking to interfere with religious buildings. With few exceptions, in the case of Cordoba House, these groups have either been silent or directly contradicted their own history of statements and action.

Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) in 2000 at the urging of religious-rights groups. The law creates strong protections for churches and other houses of worship from local governments using zoning and other land-use laws to restrict them, essentially saying that if local municipalities interfere with religious institutions, they'd better have a very good reason for doing it.

The American Center for Law and Justice

The ACLJ has made abundant use of RLUIPA to argue that local governments can't prevent houses of worship from being built wherever and whenever the worshipers like. In 2000, the ACLJ sued Elizabeth City, N.C., under RLUIPA for what its leader called "the city's discriminatory actions in refusing to grant [church and rehab center] Teen Challenge zoning approval to operate its ministry." The group's website says it "remains committed to the principle that the use of zoning laws to curtail the religious freedoms of churches is unconstitutional."

The group's shift on Cordoba House indicates it may not believe the same rights should be afforded to mosques as "churches." ACLJ wrote a letter to the New York City Planning Commission [pdf] urging it to confer landmark status on the building and Wednesday, after the Planning Commission unanimously voted not to interfere with the construction of the mosque, ACLJ vowed to pursue the matter in state court, and today filed suit seeking to stop construction of Cordoba House.

The Anti Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League's opposition to Cordoba House similarly contradicts the group's past work. The group came out last week in opposition to the religious center's location, saying it believed that the Cordoba House flap would be best resolved "if an alternative location could be found." However, in each of the five federal cases in which the ADL filed amicus briefs in RLUIPA cases on behalf of religious buildings, the religious group faced a city making that same argument. And in each of those cases, the ADL argued that the city had no right to use zoning laws to interfere with houses of worship.

In a brief filed by the ADL in 2004 in support of ACLJ's lawsuit in New Milford, attorney Mitchell Karlan put the RLUIPA in context by citing "overwhelming evidence that local governments, through their power to regulate land use, were discriminating against both mainstream and non-mainstream religions." Karlan argued that "municipalities, cities, and towns have demonstrated a consistent hostility towards the free exercise of religion with respect to land use."

The ADL's position on the rights of Cordoba House is less clear. In a statement, ADL leaders said simply that their counterparts at the Cordoba Institute "may have every right" to build where they please, but shouldn't.

The ADL did not respond to a request for comment. But Mitchell Karlan, though cautioning that he's not authorized to speak for the organization, defended the ADL's position.

"Any time a government takes an official action for the purpose of interfering with the free exercise of religion," he told The Upshot, "that's problematic. But the issue at ground zero is more about the religious community being politically sensitive to the needs of its neighbors."

Asked to explain the difference between the ADL's position in the New Milford case, in which the group defended a man's right to hold religious ceremonies in his home over the objections of his neighbors, and the Cordoba House, Karlan said, "It's not helpful to think about 9/11 as analogous to more mundane issues like, is a church going to create traffic problems? September 11 was the greatest domestic attack in U.S. history, and for better or for worse, those who led the attack claimed to have religious reasons for doing so."

Silent organizations

Although New York City's Landmark Preservation Commission decided not to block the construction of Cordoba House, the campaign to stop its construction by the ACLJ, with rhetorical support from the ADL and conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, continues. Not all the advocates who normally fight on behalf of religious organizations are contradicting themselves as the ACLJ and the ADL are; many, instead, have simply stayed silent.

The Becket Fund, which describes itself as a "public interest law firm protecting the free expression of all religious traditions," has been notably silent considering how outspoken it has been in the past. In addition to helping the Third Church of Christ, Scientist in Washington, D.C., sue the city using RLUIPA in 2008, the fund represented a New Jersey mosque in 2006 in a RLIUPA case claiming that the city of Wayne, N.J., was "improperly and arbitrarily delaying the mosque's land development application" due to "community anti-Moslem hostility." The group is normally not shy about wading into public debates, and recently caused a minor furor by reading nefarious intent into President Obama's use of the phrase "freedom of worship" instead of "freedom of religion." Its silence may be related to its conservative political backers. For instance, Newt Gingrich, who has loudly opposed Cordoba House, served as honorary vice chair of one of its annual black-tie dinners.

The Alliance Defense Fund, another conservative religious-rights group that has made frequent use of RLUIPA cases, has also stayed out of the debate. "We've been asked by a few outlets," a spokesperson told The Upshot. "We're not commenting."

The Upshot spoke with just one person within this ecosystem of religious-rights organizations who was neither silent nor contradicting past actions: Matthew Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a religious-rights law firm associated with Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

"The Constitution cuts both ways," Staver said. "I think you have to be principled from a legal perspective, because the First Amendment is a double-edged sword." ... t-longshot
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PostThu Aug 05, 2010 6:21 am » by Madgremlin

zaff4444 wrote:I-m-o i think its a very bad idea building a mosque near ground zero,but by posting a thread like this,your dangling a carrot infront of the islam bashers in dtv.

I agree it would be a bad idea (for the people trying to worship there), only due to all the ignorant people out their.

But I still think they have the right to build it anyways, if they are willing to deal with all the haters.

Its not that we are all diverse that unites us, but that we all have universal, and undeniable freedoms! And those should never be taken away.
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PostThu Aug 05, 2010 6:30 am » by Madgremlin

Especially because if it does get built (or when construction starts) I'm sure the mainstream media will be all over it, spinning their webs for the sheeple...

:sheep: :sheep: :sheep:
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PostThu Aug 05, 2010 6:32 am » by Gisgangusur

zaff4444 wrote:I-m-o i think its a very bad idea building a mosque near ground zero,but by posting a thread like this,your dangling a carrot infront of the islam bashers in dtv.

Indeed!Very dangerous ground involving much more than religious belief system .... :nwo:
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