May 31 (UPI) -- The town of Bernards Township, N.J., must pay $3.25 million to an Islamic group to end discrimination lawsuits and allow the construction of a mosque, a settlement agreement says.
The settlement was reached Tuesday and ends lawsuits filed against the town by the Justice Department and the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge.
The dispute came after the Society paid $750,000 to obtain 4 acres of land zoned for houses of worship in Bernards Township and filed an application to construct a 4,000-square-foot mosque with a prayer room to hold 150. The town planning board denied the plan after four years of meetings, citing storm water waste management and potential disruption to neighbors among its causes for rejection.
The Society filed a lawsuit in 2016, calling the application procedure a "Kafkaesque process." It was followed by a Justice Department lawsuit, accusing the township of violating the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by demanding that an organization abide by standards not applied to others. A December ruling by a federal judge found the township violated the Society's rights.
Under Tuesday's settlement, the Society will be permitted to build its mosque, and will receive $1.5 million in damages. Another $1.75 million will be set aside to pay legal fees. A Bernards Township statement said that except for a deductible, the municipality's insurance company will pay the settlement with no taxpayer funding involved.
"Municipalities around the country should pay close attention to what happened in Bernards Township," lawyer Adeel Mangi, who represented the Society, told NJ.com. "The American Muslim community has the legal resources, the allies and the determination to stand up for its constitutional rights in court and will do so."