MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — A lawsuit that seeks to void the approval of a Rutherford County mosque will go to trial next week in Murfreesboro.
On Thursday, Chancellor Robert Corlew wouldn't dismiss claims that inadequate public notice was given for the May 2010 Planning Commission meeting where the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was approved.
State law requires governments to provide adequate public notice of meetings but does not define what is considered adequate. And the courts have done little to clarify the issue.
Attorneys for the county claim that the notice posted in the printed edition of the Murfreesboro Post and on the paper's website was adequate under the law.
"More, arguably, is better. The question is what is required," county attorney Josh McCreary told the court.
Plaintiffs' attorneys argued that construction of the new mosque was such an important issue that the county should be held to a high standard with regards to sufficient notice.
"This approval was a matter of pervasive public importance," Thomas Smith argued. "It attracted the attention of the entire state of Tennessee."
He said the best evidence that the notice was inadequate was that almost no members of the public were at the meeting where the Islamic Center's site plan was approved.
Corlew did agree to a defense motion to limit the scope of testimony.
The case, which has been going on for a year and a half, has often felt like it was more about Islam than proper meeting notice.
At previous hearings, plaintiffs have brought witnesses who made claims that Muslims are a threat to their fellow citizens and that Islam is not a religion. The latter caused federal attorneys to jump in to the court battle by offering legal proof that Islam is a recognized religion entitled to constitutional protection.
U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin of Nashville said at the time that to suggest otherwise was "quite simply ridiculous."
At the Thursday hearing, Corlew ruled that two expert witnesses for the plaintiffs who were to speak on the threat of militant Islam could not testify at trial. However, he did not go so far as to preclude any testimony about Islam, leaving open the possibility that other witnesses could offer similar testimony.
Lead plaintiff Kevin Fisher said after the hearing that he was glad the court case would focus on the public notice issues.
"It's the responsibility of the county to ensure adequate notice so that average citizens are able to make informed decisions," he said. ... "It's very clear this was done improperly."
The new mosque will replace a smaller, existing one.