Two weeks ago, Federal Judge Stephen Robinson, handed down a decision in a case called Fortress Bible Church v. Feiner, that is like a crystal ball look into the future of any litigation against the proposed mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. In Upstate Greenburgh NY, a Baptist community wanted to move form its cramped quarters on to a 6.5 acre site to build a 500-person capacity church and a school that could accommodate up to 150 children. The Town did all that it could to stop it. It forced the church to do numerous environmental impact statements and traffic studies. It even went so far as to ask the church to buy new firetrucks for the fire department. At countless Town Hall meetings, council men and women made all kinds of objections regarding the size of the facility, traffic impact, loss of tax revenue etc.
The judge was unimpressed and stated that the town’s “purported concerns were unsupported, if not wholly fabricated.” After a 26 day trial and the submission of over 300 documents, the judge found that the conduct of town officials violated §2(a)(1) of RLUIPA Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act; the First Amendment’s free exercise clause; the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause; as well as the free exercise and equal protection clauses of the New York Constitution.
The judge ordered a damages hearing so that he could set a monetary amount of damages to award against Greenburgh. He will assess them for the cost of attorneys’ fees as well as increased construction costs and delays. Folks familiar with the case say the estimated damages will be between $4-6 million!! That’s for a case involving a 500 seat church in Greenburgh.
How much have the Park Place mosque developers already incurred in additional costs and delays? That kind of litigation in NY would take years to be finalized and cost NYC tens of millions of dollars as it is a sure fire winner.
And frankly, that should end the conversation regarding the mosque. Their legal right is clear and undisputed. Any attempts at litigation are destined to lose and those bringing the lawsuit would be hit with legal costs.
Let’s learn a lesson from tiny old Greenburgh, pick our battles wisely and move on.