In this Sept. 23, 2016, file photo, Muslim worshippers pray during a service at the Bernards Township Community Center in Basking Ridge, N.J.
Julio Cortez—AP
By Lisa Marie Segarra
May 31, 2017

A New Jersey Islamic organization will be allowed to build a mosque after settling a lawsuit with the township that tried to stop those plans.

Bernards Township, N.J. will pay the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge $3.25 million, $1.75 million will go toward attorney fees and the other $1.5 million will be paid for damages, according to the settlement agreement document posted Thursday on the township’s website.

The ISBR filed its lawsuit against Bernards Township in 2016, four years after applying to build the mosque, according to the document. The Department of Justice also sued the town on the same grounds later that year, according to the agreement. The settlement resolves both lawsuits, the document says.

In a statement on the township website, Bernards Township spokesperson Michael P. Turner said the settlement “represents the most effective path forward.” Turner said that the township denies that the refusal of the mosque was discriminatory as the lawsuit alleged. The township said in its statement that the rejection of the mosque’s application was based on parking and land use concerns.

However, the town was found to have treated the potential mosque “differently” than other houses of worship, according to a statement by U.S. attorney William Fitzpatrick. “Federal law requires towns to treat religious land use applications like any other land use application,”Fitzpatrick said. “Bernards Township made decisions that treated the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge differently than other houses of worship.”

The township changed the zoning codes while the mosque’s application was pending, CNN reports, making the mosque fall out of the required standards. As part of the settlement, a township parking ordinance was found to be unconstitutional as it applied to houses of worship and is required to be amended or replaced.

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