The city of Bayonne in New Jersey has reached a $400,000 settlement with a Muslim group that was denied a permit to build a mosque in the city amid racially charged protests.
The city and the group, Bayonne Muslims, filed the agreement in US District Court on Wednesday, bringing an end to the federal lawsuit that alleged anti-Muslim bias, noting that city officials had previously granted similar requests for Christian churches.
The Justice Department also opened an investigation into the city's decision.
As part of the agreement, the Bayonne Zoning Board will also revisit the application that was previously denied.
Abdul Hamid Butt, the president of Bayonne Muslims, said in a statement that he was pleased with the agreement.
"We are so grateful for the support of so many of our fellow Bayonne residents through this long struggle and we commend the city of Bayonne for moving now to correct the wrong that was done to Bayonne’s Muslims," he said. "We are confident our application, considered on its merits, will be approved and we look forward to welcoming Bayonne residents of all faiths to the City’s first mosque."
Muslims in Bayonne, which is just a few miles west of Manhattan, have sought an Islamic center and prayer hall for nearly two decades. For years they were praying in the cramped basement of an elementary school.
The public meetings attracted national media attention after residents against the mosque could be seen with signs that said “Stop the Mosque” and “Save Bayonne.”
After the first tense zoning board meeting in January 2016, residents for and against the mosque clashed at the public hearings, including two earlier meetings this year, one of which lasted for over four hours.
"American Muslims around the country are standing up for their constitutional rights in the face of discrimination and bigotry and winning," Adeel Mangi and Muhammad Faridi, the attorneys representing Bayonne Muslims, said in the lawsuit. "Municipalities that give in to local hatred and treat Muslims unequally should know that they will be held accountable and will face the full weight of the law.”
The city's zoning board eventually denied Bayonne Muslims a zoning variance that would allow the project to go forward in March 2016.
But division and harassment continued.
The basement-turned-mosque space where local Muslims pray was vandalized last October, with “Fuck Muslims” and “Donald Trump” graffitied on the walls.
A 20-year-old man was caught and eventually pleaded guilty to criminal mischief for the vandalism.
Conversely, a woman alleged that she was threatened at her home last year for displaying the “Stop the Mosque” and “Save Bayonne” signs that could been seen around the city.
Talal Ansari is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is 4FEE 894C 8088 7E08 E170 A515 2801 7CC6 95D3 11C2
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