MURFREESBORO, Tennessee - A US judge has halted the construction of a mosque in the southeastern state of Tennessee, casting doubts on the future of the Muslim worship place that has been the center of hostile campaigns by Islam critics.
"Everyone is really shocked, many people are crying about this," Imam Osama Bahloul, leader of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, was quoted by CNN as saying Wednesday, May 30.
"We did exactly what other churches in the county did. We followed the same process that other churches did. Why did this happen? Some people feel like it is discrimination."
Judge Robert Corlew on Tuesday voided the approval of the construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
The judge ruled that the Rutherford County planning commission had not given enough public notice prior to a 2010 meeting when the mosque plans were approved.
Attorneys of the Rutherford Country say meetings to approve the mosque plans were announced in the local newspaper and its website and the approval was in line with law.
But the judge rejected the argument, saying the announcement was "in relatively small type near the bottom of a page which contained a number of advertisements and legal notices, most of which were provided by the city of Murfreesboro."
Opponents of the mosque, which was supposed to be built in 2010, argue that the mosque violated their constitutional rights, claiming that Muslims were compelled by their religion to subdue non-Muslims.
"This was a huge victory," said Joe Brandon Jr., attorney for the group opposed to the mosque.
"This is the first time in the United States that the political entity of Islam has been stopped in its tracks."
Since the approval of its construction, the Murfreesboro mosque was the center of attacks.
In August 2010, a fire destroyed construction equipment and damaged vehicles at the construction site for the mosque. Police said it was arson.
A sign announcing the mosque was spray-painted with the words "Not Welcome."
For months, mosque leaders searched for contractors to build the mosque, but the hostile opposition has turned many away from taking the job.
Mosque leaders said contractors told them it had become too much of a hot-button issue and presented too much of a risk to their business and equipment.
Mosque officials said a contractor told them that he needed the work but that the leaders of his own church were against the new Islamic center.
US Muslims have called for the US Justice Department to step in to protect the religious right of Tennessee Muslims.
"American Muslim constitutional rights should not be diminished merely because anti-Muslim bigots are able to manufacture a controversy about what would otherwise be normal religious activities," Gadeir Abbas, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)'s Staff Attorney, said.
"If the Rutherford County Planning Commission does not immediately issue new permits for the mosque, we urge the Department of Justice to intervene in this case to support the religious rights of Tennessee Muslims.
Abbas compared Tuesday's ruling to a verdict in the 1950s that blocked the building of an African-American church in a white neighborhood because of the controversy created by racists.
"The judge's ruling is apparently based on a fictitious 'heightened standard' for public notice when Muslims are involved," said Abbas.
Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR national communications director, agrees.
"If you read the judge's ruling, it is clear he sought a heightened standard of public notice for an issue that involves Muslims."
All across the US, mosques have been facing fierce opposition recently.
At least 18 mosque projects from Mississippi to Wisconsin have found foes who battle to stop them from seeing light citing different pretexts, including traffic concerns and fear of terrorism.
Even more, some mosques were vandalized including a 2011 Wichita mosque arson case for which a $5,000 reward is being offered.
In multicultural New York, a proposed mosque near Ground Zero site has snowballed into a national public and political debate, with opponents arguing that the Muslim building would be an insult to the memory of the 9/11 victims.
Advocates, however, say that the mosque would send a message of tolerance in 9/11-post America.
"I am confident that American values will prevail in this," imam Bahloul, the leader of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, said."What makes America so special is how it handles freedom. This decision does not seem like it reflects American values."