NEWARK, N.J. — A Muslim group has sued a northern New Jersey town, charging that the municipality is discriminating against it by trying to seize its land after stalling its efforts to construct a mosque.
The federal lawsuit by the Albanian Associated Fund accused Wayne of violating religious protections in the U.S. and New Jersey constitutions, as well as a 2000 federal law (RLUIPA) designed to protect religious institutions against discrimination in land-use applications.
Wayne Mayor Scott T. Rumana denied the township was trying to keep a mosque out, saying the land was needed for open space and that the township had suggested other sites.
"You've got an environmentally sensitive piece of property you are dealing with" that has steep slopes and lots of rock, Rumana said. "It's a pristine open parcel," he said.
He said the township notified the group in spring of its intention to use condemnation proceedings in light of a state court ruling last summer that allowed property to be taken to preserve open space.
The lawsuit, filed on July 17 in U.S. District Court in Newark, asks that eminent-domain proceedings be put on hold so that the Muslim group's arguments can be evaluated by the court.
In 2001 the Albanian Associated Fund bought the property, which is in an area zoned for houses of worship, and submitted a development plan in 2002, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based law firm that filed the lawsuit for the Muslim group.
"Just when it seems that there were no more hoops to jump through, the township of Wayne said that they needed to preserve the land for - quote - open space," said Becket legal counsel Jared N. Leland.
"AAF is not asking for special consideration," said one of the group's lawyers, Roman P. Storzer. "This group is entitled to the same protections of the law as any church or synagogue."
The lawsuit charged that the unreasonable delay before eminent-domain proceedings began cost the Muslim group three and a half years and hundreds of thousands of dollars.