- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) - In a story March 16 about a New Jersey town denying a group’s plan to build a mosque, The Associated Press reported erroneously the spelling of the group founder’s name. His name is Mohammad Ali Chaudry, not Mohmmad Chaundry.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Department of Justice probing town’s denial to build mosque

Federal officials are investigating whether a New Jersey town violated religious freedom laws when it denied a group’s plan to build a mosque

BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) - Federal officials are investigating whether a town violated religious freedom laws when it denied a group’s plan to build a mosque.

News of the Department of Justice’s investigation comes a week after the group sued the town in federal court, alleging religious infringement.

Bernards Township Mayor Carol Bianchi, a Republican, told The Associated Press that town officials will cooperate with federal authorities.

“I know our planning board members and they are honest and ethical,” she said in an email. “I trust they made their decisions based solely on land use considerations.”

Attorney Adeel Mangi, representing the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, declined to comment on the investigation.

The group’s founder, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, is a longtime resident of Bernards, about 35 miles west of New York City, and once served on the town’s school board.

The lawsuit alleges a delayed and drawn out process during which town residents made references to terrorism and questioned what children would learn in the mosque.

“What should have been a simple board approval for a permitted use devolved into a Kafkaesque process that spanned an unprecedented four years and included 39 public hearings,” the suit said.

The planning board had expressed concerns, among other things, about storm water drainage and a buffer zone between the proposed mosque and a neighboring property.

The group is suing under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the statute that spurred the Department of Justice probe. The 2000 law protects religious organizations from being discriminated against through zoning laws.

A municipality that’s sued under the law must prove that its zoning laws further some kind of compelling government interest.

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