Al Falah Center Files Suit Against Bridgewater
The center claims the township's new zoning ordinance violates religious freedom.
The Al Falah Center filed a suit against Bridgewater Tuesday, alleging that the township's new zoning ordinance that requires houses of worship to be on major roads prevents members of the Muslim community from exercising their freedom of religion.
According to a release from the center Wednesday, the suit is seeking to require the town to allow the Al Falah Center to move forward with plans to renovate the former Redwood Inn on Mountain Top Road to be used as a mosque and community center.
The plan for the mosque was brought before the planning board in February, but was sent over to the zoning board after the township approved a zoning ordinance that requires houses of worship and other buildings to have entrance on major roads, of which Mountain Top Road is not one.
With the approval of the ordinance, the mosque was no longer a permitted use on the property and required a variance from the zoning board.
Residents had expressed concern over the proposed mosque in several meetings, saying that it would increase traffic in the area, and that they would prefer to see it built on a more major road like Route 22.
Supporters of the Al Falah Center have presented suspicions about why the ordinance was approved so quickly after the application for the mosque had already been filed.
According to the press release, the complaint was filed in federal district court in New Jersey Tuesday, and also alleges that the new zoning ordinance discriminates against the Muslim community on the basis of religion.
After searching for a suitable location for the mosque for years, the release says, Muslims from Bridgewater and surrounding communities found the former Redwood Inn, and developed a plan with township officials for renovating the building.
According to the release, the renovation included creating a place for a house of worship, day care, religious school and community center.
But, the release says, hundreds of people showed up at planning board meetings, after what it calls an "anti-Muslim Internet campaign," to protest the project and "the township suddenly changed its course."
The release states that the township then illegally rushed through a change to the zoning rules, citing traffic concerns—which are not mentioned as the reason for the zoning changes in the township's documents.
The release also says that the complaint alleges the township violated the Al Falah Center's constitutional rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment in approving the zoning ordinance. The complaint also cites violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, according to the release.