NASHVILLE, July 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to force a Tennessee county to act promptly on a new mosque's application for an occupancy permit.
Rutherford County refused to process or issue a certificate of occupancy as a result of a state chancery court order last month in response to a motion brought by opponents of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, the Justice Department said in a news release.
The opponents had challenged whether Islam is a religion and made "unfounded allegations accusing the Islamic Center of being connected to a terrorist organization," a Justice Department memo stated.
In the suit, the federal government alleges Rutherford County violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.
The Justice Department complaint states a certificate of occupancy is needed immediately so the Islamic Center can hold worship services at the facility during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins at sundown Thursday.
"Our nation was founded on bedrock principles of religious liberty. The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously enforce civil rights laws that protect religious freedom," Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the department's Civil Rights Division, said in the release. "When a faith community follows the rules, as the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has done in seeking to construct its place of worship, it is impermissible to change the rules in a discriminatory way that prevents people of faith from exercising their fundamental right to worship."
"The United States Attorney's Office will zealously protect every citizen's right to worship and assemble," Jerry E. Martin, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, said in the release. "If we do not protect the rights of these congregants in Rutherford County, then the rights of all people are endangered and diminished."