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Does First Amendment Solve Dispute Over Tennessee Mosque?

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In July, the mosque belonging to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, set in the town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was under attack by hundreds of opponents who staged a march condemning the place of worship. Opponents carried signs reading, among them, ''MOSQUE LEADERS SUPPORT KILLING CONVERTS.''

Tennessee's Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey was open with his criticism of the mosque. In a speech given this August, Ramsey's extremist comments regarding Islam were as follows: ''You could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion,'' Ramsey said. ''Or is it a nationality, way of life, a cult, whatever you want to call it.''

The United States Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief, responding to a lawsuit filed by landowners in Rutherford County. The Justice Department ruled that practicing Islam is a protected right, granted under the First Amendment.

The federal government warned locals protesting the project that they may be committing a crime by disputing the mosque. The government's court filings stated that, ''Every court has treated Islam as a religion for purposes of the First Amendment and other federal laws. No court has held otherwise.''

The assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas E. Perez, stated the following:
''A Mosque is quite plainly a place of worship, and the county rightly recognized that it had an obligation to treat mosques the same as churches, synagogues, or any other religious assemblies. This is not only common sense, it is required by federal law. The Justice Department is committed to protecting rights of Americans of all faiths to build places of worship and to worship in peace.''
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro bought 15 acres on which they've planned to build a 10,000-square foot center. Included in the center will be a worship house, a school, a gym and a swimming pool.

This is far from the first time the Department of Justice has had to intervene in disputes of this nature. In fact, since 2001, the department has opened 51 investigations into similar matters, filed seven lawsuits, and participated in 40 privately filed suits.

The DOJ's court filings state that ''[Islam] falls plainly within the understanding of a religion for constitutional and other federal legal purposes.''

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