Updated May 30 at 1:45 p.m. EST
After five years, 39 public hearings, and two lawsuits, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge in New Jersey will finally be able to build a new mosque. On Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department announced the terms of a settlement between the federal government and Bernards Township, the local body that refused to let the Society begin construction on a proposed house of worship based on alleged issues with minor details of its proposal, including the size of the parking lot.
As part of the settlement, the mosque plan will move forward. Leaders of the township will go through training on federal religious-freedom law. And the local board will have to establish new processes for resolving complaints. The settlement also resolves a lawsuit brought separately by the Islamic Society against Bernards Township, which will pay the Society $3.25 million in damages and attorney’s fees.
This case was a particularly nasty and controversial example of a local board discriminating against a religious group that wanted a place to worship. But while the Bernards Township case is distinctive, it’s in no way unique. Religious discrimination in the U.S. often happens in the most quotidian settings, including debates over zoning ordinances.
The New Jersey fight started back in 2012, when the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge announced it would present a proposal for a new mosque to the local planning board. Before the Society had even filed a formal application, evidence of anti-Muslim bias in the community started emerging. Its mailbox was smashed. A neighbor accosted Mohammad Ali Chaudry, the Society’s president, in a parking lot after a township meeting, saying, “Eleven brothers died on 9/11 and now you want to put a mosque next to my house…