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Thomas More Law Center Challenges Court Order by Federal Judge Prohibiting Criticism of Muslims or Islam

The Thomas More Law Center is challenging a court order by a federal judge in New Jersey prohibiting criticism of Muslims or Islam at an upcoming public meeting.

The Thomas More Law Center said in a statement released on August 1:

In a settlement agreement, which reads more like an instrument of surrender, Bernards Township (‘Township’), New Jersey officials agreed that, in addition to a $3.5 million payment to Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (“ISBR”), residents and citizens of the Township are prohibited from commenting on ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslims’ at the upcoming public hearing to approve the settlement. Astonishingly, a federal judge approved the prohibition as a fully enforceable Order of the Court. (emphasis added)

As a result of this suppression of speech, the Thomas More Law Center (“TMLC”), a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, yesterday, filed a lawsuit in the New Jersey Federal District Court on behalf of Christopher and Loretta Quick. The lawsuit was filed by TMLC affiliated New Jersey attorney, Michael Hrycak. Mr. Hrycak was assisted by TMLC staff attorney, Tyler Brooks. The TMLC is representing the Quicks without charge.

TMLC’s lawsuit alleges that Bernards Township’s settlement agreement constitutes a prior restraint on speech based on content, as well as, a violation of the Establishment Clause because it prefers Islam over other religions. The lawsuit asks the court to: declare that the settlement agreement is unconstitutional; and to enter a preliminary and permanent injunction against its enforcement.

The Quicks reside within 200 feet of the proposed mosque construction in a zoned residential area. Yet, the settlement agreement prohibits them from describing the many unique features of Islamic worship which will impact design of the building, traffic density, water and sewage, traffic control problems, road construction, and parking arrangements. According to the settlement agreement, ISBR is permitted to make statements concerning Christians and Jews and their places of worship, but in contrast, the Agreement prohibits commentary relating to Islam or Muslims. In fact, ISBR has previously discussed the Christian and Jewish religions and their places of worship.

You can read the court order signed on May 30, 2017 by Federal District Judge Michael A. Shipp, appointed by President Obama in 2012, here.

“This form of restriction on free speech is called a ‘prior restraint,’” Breitbart News Senior Legal Editor Ken Klukowski said in reaction to this news. He continued:

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that prior restraints are presumptively unconstitutional, and the First Amendment allows prior restraints only when the government can prove that the restriction is narrowly tailored to achieve a truly compelling public interest. It is clear that there is no such extraordinary justification here. This prior restraint therefore fails what the courts call ‘strict scrutiny,’ and it should be struck down as a violation of the Constitution’s Free Speech Clause.

The township leaders appear to have caved to lawfare tactics that are becoming increasingly more common when legitimate zoning issues are raised in mosque construction challenges.

That capitulation has been blessed, at least initially, by Judge Shipp, at the expense of the First Amendment rights of residents of Bernards Township and other surrounding areas who do not agree with the settlement.

The immediate beneficiary of that capitulation, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (ISBR), has very questionable relationships.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, said in the August 1 statement:

As we have previously documented, ISBR has taken the extraordinary step of concealing significant links on their website to a radical group named by the federal government as an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest terrorism financing trial in America history, the Islamic Society of North America (“ISNA”). ISNA is claimed by the Muslim Brotherhood as one of “our organizations.

According to internal documents seized by the FBI, the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy is to engage in a “grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within . . .”

Thompson continued, “While claiming that the Township had a religious animus against Muslims, ISBR hid from the public view its animus toward Christians and Jews, by not only hiding anti-Christian and anti-Semitic verses published on its website, but also hiding its significant ties to ISNA. Instead of standing up to defend its citizens against ISBR’s hate-filled anti-Semitic and anti-Christian bias, the Township colluded with ISBR’s “Civilization Jihad” by capitulating to 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.”

In March 2016, ISBR filed a lawsuit in the New Jersey Federal District Court alleging that Bernards Township had discriminated against the Islamic Society when it declined to approve the construction of a large mosque on a lot that was far too small to handle the contemplated structure. And in November 2016, the United States represented by the U. S. Justice Department filed a second lawsuit against the Township on similar grounds. The settlement agreement covers both lawsuits.

You can read the Thomas More Law Center’s entire Federal Complaint, filed on July 31, 2017, here.

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