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Judge won't halt construction of Tennessee Islamic center

From Katie Pyne, CNN
  • Judge refuses to block construction of Islamic center and mosque
  • Some have protested in Murfreesboro, Tennessee
  • The justice department says practicing Islam is a protected freedom

Murfreesboro, Tennessee (CNN) -- A Tennessee judge refused Wednesday to issue a temporary restraining order that would halt construction of a new mosque and Islamic center in Murfreesboro.

Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew ruled that the county did not act "arbitrarily, capriciously or illegally" in approving the project.

In September, Kevin Fisher and three other Murfreesboro landowners filed a complaint against the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission, claiming that it violated the Tennessee open-meetings law by failing to give adequate public notice of its May 24 meeting when it approved construction of a new Islamic Center.

The plaintiffs sought an injunction against construction of the proposed 52,000-square-foot mosque that is to include a pool, gymnasium and housing quarters.

"Tomorrow is another day, and we will go forward from there," Fisher said after Corlew's ruling. "Twenty years from now, I'd love to say I was wrong on this issue, but here's the real question: what if we were right all along?"

The U.S. Justice Department in October filed a legal brief stating its support of the construction being done by the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

In the friend-of-the-court brief -- filed in response to a lawsuit brought by the local landowners -- the department argued that practicing Islam is a freedom protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

In July, Fisher said he was mainly concerned about water quality, soil contamination and traffic flow on the nearby Bradyville Pike, which he said is a dangerous highway.

"This has nothing to do with racism or religious intolerance at all. It's about a difference of opinion, and in America that's OK," said Fisher. "If Home Depot was burying bodies in the water supply ... I would be equally concerned."

The water and soil concerns stem from the Islamic center's burying a body on the new property "without a casket or proper embalming," Fisher said in July.

Doug Demosi, the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission Director, said the center had permission before interring the body and it doesn't appear any state regulations were violated.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey publicly criticized the project during a speech in August.

"You could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, a cult, whatever you want to call it," Ramsey, then a candidate for Tennessee governor, said at a rally.

CNN's Dave Timko and Kimberly Babbit-Arp contributed to this report.