A recent sweep of victories over New Jersey towns that discriminated against Muslims is a sharp retort to President Trump’s inciting of intolerance.
This is still America, after all, where the law protects all religious faiths. So far, Muslims are three for three in a string of test cases over their right to build their own spaces to pray. The score for discriminatory townships: Zero.
Even in a climate of rising anti-Islam rhetoric, vandalized mosques and other hate crimes, local officials are learning that bigotry doesn’t pay.
First there was Bridgewater, which shelled out $7.75 million for blocking a mosque out of what a federal judge called “anti-Muslim bias.” Then there was neighboring Bernards, which settled a similar lawsuit for $3.25 million.Now, Bayonne is avoiding a long and costly legal battle by settling for $400,000. Its insurer will pay this money to a Muslim group blocked from building the city’s first mosque, and pending a sign-off from a local board, it will finally begin renovating an old warehouse into a place of worship.
Towns all over the state are seeing that discriminating against mosques under the guise of land use issues comes with a hefty price tag. Do they really want to sink millions into this?
The lawyers leading these cases are Adeel Mangi, an Oxford and Harvard law grad, and Muhammad Faridi, who worked his way through law school as a cabbie. Their law firm donated all their attorneys’ fees in the Bernards case to charities including scholarships for Muslim American law students.
“Municipalities that give in to local hatred and treat Muslims unequally should know that they will be held accountable and will face the full weight of the law,” they warned this week.
Politically, Bernards still hasn’t gotten the message. Even after costing taxpayers millions, local officials just appointed one of the mosque-blockers, John Carpenter, as mayor – and among the first things he did was kick a doctor off a local health board to make room for a supporter.
Nick Xu has no health experience and was actually interested in serving on the “Deer Management Advisory Committee.” In a loopy tirade, he claimed the mosque complaint – backed by a federal ruling and Justice Department-mandated reforms – was part of a “systematic plot” by Muslims to make money.
When we contacted him Friday, he denied being anti-Muslim, while reiterating that this is all about “Muslim supremacy,” and that “we are living in a deep state.” What qualifies him for this health board, he said, is that “I’m a patient.”
In reality, only one party is in this for money: The Thomas More Law Center. This is a group of out-of-state wingnuts that filed frivolous lawsuits on behalf of mosque opponents in Bernards. Their suits stand little chance, but garner publicity that drives up donations.
It’s a racket, fueled by those who believe our majority-Christian nation is a victim of secret Islamic indoctrination. The center raises almost $1.9 million annually, and its leader, Scott Thompson – who rants that “Muslims are not arriving on American shores to assimilate but to conquer” – makes $216,000.
When asked about this, Kate Oliveri, a lawyer with TMLC, said, indisputably, “Mr. Thompson’s statements are his statements.”
Michael Hrycak, a Westfield-based attorney, claims to know nothing about TMLC’s anti-Muslim views, while working pro-bono on at least two of its cases.He and Oliveri are now suing two middle school social studies instructors for teaching about Islam, the world’s second largest religion, on behalf of Libby Hilsenrath, a mother who complained the Chatham school district was trying to indoctrinate her kid.
The attempts to harass and intimidate Muslims continue, as will the crazy screeds. But no matter how much money they raise or power they hold, the bigots keep losing the argument.