Al Falah Center and Bridgewater Township Reach Settlement to Allow for the Establishment of the First Mosque in Bridgewater
December 2, 2014 -- Al Falah Center announces it has reached a settlement with Bridgewater Township. The settlement is a very significant step in Al Falah Center’s goal to build the first mosque in Bridgewater Township.
The case, Al Falah Center v. the Township of Bridgewater, arose out of the Township’s enactment of Ordinance 11-03 shortly after Al Falah Center filed an application with the Bridgewater Planning Board for site plan approval that would enable it to convert the Redwood Inn, a former banquet hall that Al Falah Center had purchased, into a mosque. Ordinance 11-03 changed the rules so that houses of worship would be conditionally permitted only on designated roads that did not include Mountain Top Road, where the Redwood Inn is. This changed 75 years of settled zoning policy that had permitted or conditionally permitted houses of worship on all roads in Bridgewater’s residential zones.
This change imposed an unjustified burden on the exercise of the Al Falah Center community’s religion, so Al Falah Center sued the Township and alleged violations of its constitutional and statutory rights. In particular, Al Falah alleged violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which protects religious institutions against discrimination and unlawful burdens on religious worship. On September 30, 2013, the Federal Court ruled in favor of Al Falah Center, preliminarily enjoining the Township from applying Ordinance 11-03 to Al Falah Center’s mosque application. The Court found that Al Falah Center had not only demonstrated irreparable injury to the Muslim community that had been deprived of the ability to use its property as a house of worship, but had also demonstrated that it was likely to succeed on the merits, at least of its statutory claim. The Court also rejected the Township’s argument that the lawsuit was premature and that Al Falah Center should have pursued a zoning variance before filing suit. The Court ordered the Planning Board to consider Al Falah Center’s application to build a mosque at the Redwood Inn before the Planning Board under the previous ordinance and without applying the new ordinance that Al Falah Center had challenged.
Following this ruling, the parties engaged in extensive settlement negotiations that have now resulted in an agreement designed to allow Al Falah Center to build its house of worship in Bridgewater. Under the terms of the settlement, the Township has agreed to exchange a 10.75 acre piece of land on Route 202/206 in Bridgewater for the Redwood Inn property. The exchange will occur only after Al Falah Center has obtained all approvals necessary to construct a mosque on the new property; if those approvals are not obtained, the settlement provides that the preliminary injunction will be made permanent so that Al Falah Center can pursue the construction of a mosque at the Redwood Inn site without reference to the challenged ordinance. In addition, Al Falah Center has received a substantial monetary settlement which it can use to help finance construction of its mosque on either of the two properties.
“We applaud the Mayor and the Council for entering into this Agreement and look forward to working cooperatively with them to reach our objective. And we want to thank our legal team, who have stood by us throughout,” Yasser Abdelkader, President of Al Falah Center, stated. Al Falah Center is represented by Arnold & Porter LLP, Archer & Greiner, P.C., The Brennan Center for Justice, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
For further information, please call:
Contact for Al Falah Center:
Al Falah Center Board Member
Contact for Al Falah Center’s legal representatives:
Peter L. Zimroth
Arnold & Porter LLP