In the never-ending pursuit to avoid being offended, the Left has taken aim at another constitutional right. It appears that this time they have succeeded.
According to an article on the Thomas More Law Center’s website, in Bernards Township, New Jersey, city officials recently approved the construction of an Islamic mosque with a disturbing ruling accompanying the project. Incredibly, a federal judge ruled that local residents of Bernards Township cannot speak about Islam or Muslims in the public hearing about the mosque’s construction. This is a clear violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.
The ruling was the result of a very sensitive controversy in the township. A local branch of the Islamic Society of North America filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Federal District Court last year when the construction of the mosque wasn’t approved by the city.
According to NBC News, the city denied approval for construction because the lot proposed for the mosque would be too small to accommodate the needed parking. The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge filed the lawsuit claiming religious discrimination by both the city and local residents.
When the DOJ filed a follow-up lawsuit, city officials were quick to give approval for the construction, bringing the originally required parking spots from 107 down to 50. The city also provided a settlement of $3.25 million to the ISBR. Lawyers representing the ISBR said they would donate their part of the settlement to charity.
US Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick said in a statement after the settlement, “Bernards Township made decisions that treated the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge differently than other houses of worship. The settlement announced today corrects those decisions and ensures that members of this religious community have the same ability to practice their faith as all other religions.”
While many residents were accepting of the mosque’s construction, some anti-Islamists have opposed it. Numerous public hearings became tense as these individuals expressed their concerns over the mosque’s construction.
This led to the highly unusual ruling by city officials that those in attendance of public hearings will not be permitted to make comments about Islam or Muslims when discussing the construction of the building.
While it’s understandable that bigots shouting their opinions in a public hearing doesn’t benefit anyone, and disrupts actual discussion on the mosque’s construction, it is disturbing that city officials have resorted to denying their residents the right to freedom of speech to solve their concerns.
This led the Thomas More Law Center (which describes itself as a defender of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, values, and religious freedom) to file a lawsuit of discrimination against the city. They claim such a ruling not only infringes on the constitutional rights of local residents, but also shows favoritism to the Islamic faith.
President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, Richard Thompson, pointed to the “payment of millions of dollars to ISBR, allowing the construction of the new mosque and Islamic center in violation of zoning codes, and now even suppressing speech concerning Islam or Muslims at a public meeting,” as signs of the city showing favoritism.
To be clear, the issue is not the construction of the mosque or the Islamic faith. The concern is with the idea that city officials are denying residents their right to freedom of speech to avoid confrontation.
While negative and racist opinions are despicable, it is everyone’s constitutionally protected right to express their opinions. Rulings like this could open the floodgates for other rulings that would prevent people from voicing opinions that disagree with public opinion. This could be very dangerous considering the rise of “safe spaces” and the pursuit of the Left to avoid being offended.
This decision by the city officials–and federal judge–to oppress freedom of speech could, if left unchallenged, lead to the setting of a precedent that permanently infringes on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. It could also encroach on the same Amendment’s guarantee to freedom of assembly.