A conservative legal advocacy group that focuses on religious liberty issues filed a lawsuit against the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission this week over their approval of the construction of a Muslim community center near the World Trade Center site.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) argued in a brief filed this week that city officials politicized the process to review buildings of historic interest and utilized an “arbitrary and capricious abuse of discretion” when choosing whether to deem the building that would house the Muslim community center as a historic site.
“The Landmark Commission would not have rendered this decision but for the fact that it’s a mosque,” ACLJ attorney Brett Joshpe told The Daily Caller. “Because there are politically correct decisions at play, the property owners in this case are actually getting special treatment. The administrative agency is not applying the law faithfully, regardless of the faith of the people involved.”
The ACLJ is suing on behalf of New York firefighter Tim Brown, who claims the city did not follow the proper steps toward determining whether the space should be preserved, since it was hit with debris from the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
After saying the building was “arguably one of the most significant properties in New York,” Joshpe said he would not be pursuing the case if a Christian church were being built on the same site.
“Would I be personally involved in this matter if this were a church? No,” he said. “And the reason why is because if it were a church it wouldn’t be offending and hurting the 9/11 victims’ families.”
Critics of the ACLJ suit said the group was taking advantage of the landmark designation process to infringe on the rights of religious minorities.
“I think it’s outrageous,” said Timothy Sandefur, principle attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation. “Private property rights protect the right of a Muslim group to build a community center if they want to. Abusing the Landmark Preservation Law in this way to violate the private property rights of the people who have legitimately purchased this property is in clear violation of the Constitution.”
Attorneys working on behalf of the ACLJ have filed suits in the past that argue that religious freedom trumps land use laws. The ACLJ brands itself as “specifically dedicated to the ideal that religious freedom and freedom of speech are inalienable, God-given rights.”
Joshpe added that the issue at stake, however, was not about freedom of religion.
“People keep talking about this as if it’s an issue of religious freedom and it’s not,” Joshpe said. “I think it’s a matter of human discretion. It’s a matter of speaking up publicly and saying ‘we don’t think this is appropriate, we don’t think this is the time or the place and we think you really ought to reconsider.’ Those are the guiding principles behind our position.”
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