A federal judge ruled in December that the township and its officials had openly violated the Muslims’ rights.
“Defendants’ express discrimination on the basis of religion warrants the highest protection of the Free Exercise Clause,” Judge Michael A. Shipp of Federal District Court wrote in a 57-page decision that cited a federal anti-discrimination statute and the vague standards in the township’s law.
At issue was an official demand that the mosque provide 107 parking spots for its 150 worshipers, instead of the ratio of one spot for every three users required of the township’s churches, synagogues, restaurants and auditoriums.
The Planning Board’s parking requirement for the mosque set off an avalanche: If the Islamic Society were to devote as much of its land to parking as the board demanded, it would not be able to comply with mandates for drainage and lighting.
During a hearing at the federal court in Trenton, a lawyer for the township, Howard Mankoff, said that the Planning Board applied different standards to the proposed mosque.
“Are both synagogues and mosques considered churches under the definitions that the township operates under?” Judge Shipp asked.
Mr. Mankoff: “No.”
Judge Shipp: “Is a mosque considered a church?”
Mr. Mankoff: “No.”
Judge Shipp: “So it is different?”
Mr. Mankoff: “Yes, your Honor.”
How so, the judge wanted to know. Mr. Mankoff said that mosques were busy on Friday evenings, rather than on Sundays.
Judge Shipp probed the implications of that answer.
“Is the board, in essence, adopting a policy that expressly applies different standards based on religion?” he asked.
“It’s not based on religion,” Mr. Mankoff said. “It’s based simply on the parking needs of the applicants.”
The judge did not accept that. “Counsel, you just stood there and told me that when you look at a mosque, you’re looking at a Friday worship,” Judge Shipp said. “When you look at Christian churches, you’re looking at a weekend worship.”
A lawyer for the Islamic Society, Adeel A. Mangi of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, pointed out that the township’s synagogues did not have the same severe parking requirements. “They pray on a Friday, too,” Mr. Mangi said.
Over nearly four years, the proposed mosque was the subject of 39 hearings. Beneath the technical land-use discussions in public, a sulfurous tone was captured in emails that the Justice Department uncovered.
“As a religion, Islam owes its size and influence to a tradition from Day 1 of forced conversions through violent means,” wrote John Malay, who served on both the Planning Board and the Township Committee. Members of the two bodies discussed ways to exclude the president of the Islamic Society, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, a former mayor of the township, from a Sept. 11 commemoration. John Carpenter, a member of the Township Committee, wrote of President Obama: “Man child. The product of fools, raised by idiots and coddled by affirmative action. Behold the beast.”
None of these materials were part of Judge Shipp’s decision, which was based entirely on the filings made by the township itself.
Michael Turner, a spokesman for the township, said that many people served their township without compensation. They have the power and responsibility to shape the place where they live. In the case of Bernards Township, Judge Shipp found, it was too much.
“The Parking Ordinance unambiguously provides the Planning Board with unbridled and unconstitutional discretion,” he wrote.
An earlier version of this column rendered incorrectly part of the name of a law firm. It is Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, not Patterson Belknap Webster & Tyler.
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