Residents of Murfreesboro, Tenn., will have to get used to crescent moons crowning the two white minarets and emerald green dome of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the mosque’s neighbors who first tried to stop its construction in 2010.
The neighbors claimed their Rutherford County Planning Commission failed to give enough public notice before approving the center’s site plan. They enjoyed brief success when County Judge Robert E. Corlew III ruled in 2012 that the county planning commission had violated Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act. The law requires government bodies to advertise scheduled meetings to the public.
A federal district court, though, ordered the county to allow construction on religious freedom grounds. Arsonists and vandals apparently tried to take the law into their own hands, but to no avail. A fire fizzled out, and Muslims replaced “Future Site of Islamic Center” signs that graffiti and vandalism ruined. The center celebrated its grand opening on Nov. 18, 2012.
Some neighbors did not give up. The center’s plan for a cemetery produced another local lawsuit. Muslim burials typically include shrouds, not caskets. Nearby residents say the exposed bodies could taint their water supply, but the county zoning board approved the cemetery in January.
But what if the mosque’s opponents had been successful? If state law strikes down Islamic mosques, what happens to houses of worship for Jews, Universalists, Christians, and Baha’is? If followers of Muhammad can’t have their minarets, will Christ’s disciples lose steeples? Could law-backed attacks on the faith of our neighbors strip the Bible Belt off America’s waist?