Muslims in Middle Tennessee will be allowed to worship in the newly constructed Islamic Center in Murfreesboro after a long and bitter battle to win the right to do so. A federal judge in Nashville issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday that permits worshippers to use the mosque. The welcome decision resolves issues that have prevented issuance of a certificate of occupancy required to use the facility.
It is unlikely, however, that the judge's ruling will end the animosity that fueled every discussion about the mosque in the years since congregants first made their desire to build the house of worship known.
Members of the congregation hoped to worship in the center on Thursday night, the start of the holy month of Ramadan. That did not occur. A codes inspector said Thursday that some work remains to be done before the building is ready for its final inspection. The delay is no doubt disheartening, but the sadness surely is tempered by the knowledge that worship in the new facility can begin soon.
That satisfaction has been long in coming. Opposition to the mosque — and, by inference to Islam and to Muslims — has been vicious. Opponents tried to use zoning hearings to prevent construction. They've continued the battle — verbally and in the courts — as construction moved forward. The center even became the topic of national conversation after a local congressional candidate said Islam was not a religion, and then implied that the center was a front for terrorism. She gained little from her venomous outburst, thank goodness, and was defeated.
Still, the discussion reflected badly on Murfreesboro, though Rutherford County officials and many residents there — likely a majority — forthrightly defended the right of Muslims to worship as they pleased. Their principled stand is far more in keeping with traditional American values than the small-minded bigotry displayed by those who obviously but incorrectly believe that all terrorists are Muslims and that all Muslims, including those who are hard-working and law-abiding residents of Middle Tennessee, are terrorists.
The restraining order issued Wednesday does not end the uncertainty and debate surrounding the construction and the use of the mosque. The judge's order certainly won't convince bigots to change their minds and to end their demagoguery. And it does not resolve all pending state and federal lawsuits. It simply and correctly clears the way for Muslims to begin to worship as they please in a place of their choosing. That's a right guaranteed by the Constitution.
Final approval of the mosque as a house of worship has yet to come, and the case ultimately will be decided on its merits before the law. That is as it should be. Hateful comments and the wholesale denigration of one of the world's great religions and its adherents have no place in civil discourse in Murfreesboro or any other locale in the United States. The judge's restraining order acknowledges that — and reaffirms the tolerance that is essential to American liberty and religious freedom.