NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Opponents of a mosque being built in Tennessee got the government decision that approved it overturned Friday but lost their bid to stop construction immediately.
Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew said in a written order released in the Nashville suburb of Murfreesboro that the approval was void because it was taken in violation of the Tennessee's Open Meetings Act. He ruled earlier in the week that the county didn't give the public adequate notice of what has become a contentious issue.
The order prohibits further meetings on the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro without proper notice.
But the decision also says that if the mosque opponents want to halt construction they must begin a new court action.
The construction has been ongoing during the 18 months the court case has dragged on. Mosque leaders hope to finish the first phase of construction, a 12,000-square-foot multi-purpose structure for worship and events, before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which this year begins at the end of July.
Islamic Center board chairman Essam Fathy said he was relieved by the order.
“This news sounds good because we can take our breath with it,” he said.
Fathy said that mosque leaders have followed the proper procedures for permitting and construction and went through the same process as a neighboring church.
“We are as American as they are,” he said. “We know our constitutional rights.''
The mosque was one of several Muslim projects in the U.S. that hit a swell of conservative Christian opposition in 2010 as outrage flared over a plan to build a Muslim community center near New York's Ground Zero.
In Tennessee, there were large protests and counter-protests and arson of construction equipment at the building site soon after the approval was issued.
A group of opponents asked the court to stop the mosque from being built. During lengthy hearings, they presented testimony that questioned whether Islam is a legitimate religion and promoted a theory that American Muslims want to replace the Constitution with extremist Islamic law and the mosque was a part of that plot.
The judge dismissed those allegations but held a trial earlier this year on the narrower claim that the public meeting law was violated.