Mosque in Zone Fight

An Islamic group sued Bridgewater, N.J., for religious discrimination after the town changed zoning rules to block a mosque from opening in a residential neighborhood.

The Al Falah Center wanted to convert a former banquet hall located on a quiet side street into a mosque, day-care facility and community center for a diverse group of Muslim Americans who have been trying to find a home for the center more than a decade, according to the lawsuit filed on Tuesday in federal court in New Jersey.

But when the plans were making their way through the municipal channels, hundreds turned up to oppose the mosque. Though residents said their concerns were about traffic and other mundane quality-of-life issues, some people questioned where the group's funding was coming from, and whether it had ties to terrorist organizations.

On March 14, the town agreed to limit houses of worship to certain main roads and other selected roads, including all areas where current churches and temples—including for Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish congregations—were already located. Al Falah said the town deliberately jimmied with the process, pushing their planning-board application hearing until after the town changed the law, to block the mosque.

"This conduct is discriminatory and imposes a substantial burden on plaintiffs' right to the free exercise of their religion in violation of federal and state constitutional and statutory requirements," the lawsuit said.