by Julius Eason
Opponents of a plan to construct a cemetery on the grounds of a Mufreesboro, Tenn. mosque were denied their day in court Wednesday, March 26, and confrontation flared up between the anti-Islamic activists and the supporters and media on the scene.
The plan’s opponents arrived at the courtroom seeking an injunction to put a halt to the cemetery, claiming there was standing water at the site where the cemetery is to be constructed, as well as traffic concerns.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM) and attorney John Green asked Judge William Corlew III to recuse himself from the case, since he previously ruled against the initial construction of the mosque back in 2010 before being overruled by a federal judge. Corlew agreed to recuse himself, upsetting opponents of the cemetery plan.
“We’ll go to another judge because the Islamic center didn’t think Judge Corlew could give them a fair trial. I think it was sad today for all the people who took off work to be here,” said Lou Ann Zelenik, a local Tea Party official and former Republican congressional candidate.
Zelenik ran for Congress back in 2012, losing to Rep. Diane Black (R-TN). The race to office between the two garnered media attention as each candidate increasingly adopted anti-Muslim rhetoric in competition with one another.
Zelenik has been outspoken as a staunch opponent of the Islamic Center of Mufreesboro, evident in a communiqué from her campaign issued in 2010, claiming that the then-proposed mosque was “an Islamic training center” that was a political institution as opposed to a religious one. “Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them,” her statement read.
Arriving at the courtroom Wednesday, March 26 with a Tea Party group, Zelenik was prepared to be a witness for the plaintiffs. After Judge Corlew agreed to step down, mosque opponents appeared unhappy in the hallway outside of the meeting room, and confrontation arose as the media followed them for interviews.
WSMN Channel 4 reporter Larry Flowers was among those filming in the small hallway, and was greeted with Zelenik warning reporters against filming.
“I don’t have a dog in this fight, so you do not touch me! You hear me?” Flowers can be heard saying in a video released of the incident when a Tea Party member attempted to grab his camera.
The Murfreesboro Post reported that, although security deputies were called to the third floor hallway to maintain order, and ICM attorney John Green had ordered his client’s members and supporters to ignore the mosque’s opponents, arguments broke out. Members of the Islamic center and the Tea Party members accused one another of lying, with one opponent pointing a finger at the mosque’s supporters, saying “You’re the ones that’s lying. It’s not a religion. It’s a political ideology.”
Another amongst Zelenik’s group questioned the intent of Noor Tagouri, a University of Maryland journalism student visiting to cover the case for a class, asking how she could report objectively while wearing a hijab.
Zelenik and others accused Tagouri of secretly recording even though she was standing present with other media reporters and readily identifying herself, with Zelenik calling Tagouri’s actions “inciteful” and “scary.”
With emotions running high between supporters and mosque opponents, ICM attorney John Green was reminded of the four years of court battles centered around the construction of the Islamic center. The “degree of hyperbole and misinformation” in the case so far borders on “absurdity,” Green said.
Despite the setback, plaintiffs and opponents of the proposed cemetery plan resolved to take the case to another judge. Duncan Cave, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he wants the case heard, regardless of the judge presiding.
“Another judge will likely be selected,” Green said, following the hearing. “It will depend on whether the plaintiffs decide to appeal the decision of recusal.”
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro set up at the intersection of Bradyville Pike and Veals Road in 2012, a 12,000-square-foot structure that includes a multipurpose room for worship, meals, and other events. Despite the controversy surrounding the mosque, including acts of vandalism and arson during its construction, the ICM has long-term plans to expand the cemetery, build a formal mosque, a gym and indoor pool, as well as classrooms for weekend study.