Arnold & Porter Advises Al Falah Center on Settlement to Allow First Mosque in Bridgewater, NJ
NEW YORK, December 8, 2014 -- Arnold & Porter LLP advised Al Falah Center in its recent litigation settlement with Bridgewater Township that will allow for the establishment of the first mosque in Bridgewater, New Jersey.
The case, Al Falah Center v. the Township of Bridgewater, arose out of the Township's enactment of a zoning ordinance to prevent Al Falah Center from developing a mosque on its property. In 2010, the Al Falah Center had purchased a former banquet hall and shortly thereafter filed an application with the Bridgewater Planning Board for approval to convert it into a mosque. The application did not require any variances because the property was zoned so that a house of worship would be permitted. As soon as the application was filed, however, the Township changed its zoning ordinance so that a house of worship would be permitted only on certain roads in residential neighborhoods -- not including the road on which the former hall was located. This changed 75 years of settled zoning policy that had permitted or conditionally permitted houses of worship on all roads in Bridgewater's residential zones.
Al Falah Center filed a suit against the Township alleging violations of its constitutional and statutory rights. In particular, Al Falah Center alleged violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which protects religious institutions against discrimination and unlawful burdens on religious worship.
On September 30, 2013, Judge Michael Shipp of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled in favor of Al Falah Center, preliminarily enjoining the Township from applying Ordinance 11-03 to Al Falah Center's mosque application. The Court found that Al Falah Center had not only demonstrated irreparable injury to the Muslim community that had been deprived of the ability to use its property as a house of worship, but that it was likely to succeed on the merits.
Under the terms of the settlement, Bridgewater Township has agreed to exchange a 10.75 acre piece of land in Bridgewater for the banquet hall site. The settlement also provides for a payment to Al Falah of $5 million, which can be used to finance the construction of a mosque at either site.
The Arnold & Porter legal team was led by Peter Zimroth, Bruce Kelly, and Kerry Dziubek, all based in the firm's New York office. Archer & Greiner PC, The Brennan Center for Justice, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund served as co-counsel.