The Civil Rights Division just filed an amicus brief in support of the builders of a proposed Islamic community center in Murfreesboro Tennessee, stating well, the obvious:
The department’s brief argues that Islam is a religion entitled to protection under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and points out that, “consistent among all three branches of government, the United States has recognized Islam as a major world religion.” It also argues that mosques are places of religious worship, and that Rutherford County properly determined that it must treat the mosque project as it would other proposals for construction of places of worship.
“A mosque is quite plainly a place of worship, and the county rightly recognized that it had an obligation to treat mosques the same as churches, synagogue, or any other religious assemblies. This is not only common sense; it is required by federal law. The Justice Department is committed to protecting rights of Americans of all faiths to build places of worship and to worship in peace,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.
If you're wondering why this needs to be argued, it's because the opponents of the project have been trying to argue that Islam doesn't actually count as a religion. With the aid of people like professional Islamophobe Frank Gaffney, they've also tried to argue that the group behind the project is part of a shadowy conspiracy to institute Taliban-style Sharia law in the United States. Even if it were true that Islam were an "ideology" and not a religion, Muslims wouldn't suddenly lose their First Amendment rights -- what opponents are trying to do is exempt the builders from federal protections against using zoning laws to prevent the construction of religious buildings. The DoJ brief argues that "had the Rutherford County Government adopted the position the plaintiffs set forth, it would likely be in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act."
As I've written before, potential RLUIPA violations involving Muslim religious buildings have skyrocketed since May of this year, around the time the campaign against the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero started to pick up steam. I expect conservatives to use this brief as another example of the administration "siding with Muslims against Americans," but such objections are a reminder that some people are simply opposed to the Civil Rights Division actually doing its job.
Sixty-six percent of Tennesseans either support or are indifferent to the center being built, while 28 percent object, according to a recent poll. The 14-page brief, half of which establishes that Islam is a religion while the rest argues that the RLUIPA would apply in this case, begins its "background" section by citing the dictionary and a 2002 speech by former President George W. Bush.