The First Amendment guarantees that the government cannot suppress free speech or favor a religion — but a court in New Jersey is violating both of those promises.
According to a report from the Thomas More Law Center, residents of Bernards Township, New Jersey, have been banned from bringing up the topic of Muslims or Islam at an upcoming public hearing.
That public forum is intended to determine whether a mosque should be built in the community.
You read that right: Authorities have essentially banned citizens from uttering the words “Muslim” or “Islam” at a public debate that centers on that very religion.
The controversy is focused on a settlement order from a district court, which appears to blatantly violate free speech protections.
“No commentary regarding Islam or Muslims will be permitted,” states a legally binding court order about the mosque hearing.
Violators, it seems clear, will be punished by being prohibited from speaking. It’s a tactic that smacks of the Shariah-controlled lands of the Middle East, or other totalitarian societies like communist nations under Soviet domination — not an American township in the state of New Jersey.
In response to the controversial order, the Thomas More Law Center has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Christopher and Loretta Quick, who live just 200 feet away from the proposed mosque site.
“TMLC’s lawsuit alleges that Bernards Township’s settlement agreement constitutes a prior restraint on speech based on content, as well as, a violation of the (First Amendment) Establishment Clause because it prefers Islam over other religions,” the law center explained.
The lawsuit claims that preventing local citizens from voicing their concerns about the “Islamic” nature of the mosque is not only unfair, but also unconstitutional.
“The Quicks reside within 200 feet of the proposed mosque construction in a zoned residential area. Yet, the settlement agreement prohibits them from describing the many unique features of Islamic worship,” the Thomas More Law Center stated.
Additionally, the lawsuit argues that the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, or “ISBR,” is permitted to make any sort of comments about Jews or Christians without restriction, but the government is actively suppressing free speech in the other direction.
“While claiming that the Township had a religious animus against Muslims, ISBR hid from the public view its animus toward Christians and Jews, by not only hiding anti-Christian and anti-Semitic verses published on its website, but also hiding its significant ties to ISNA [Islamic Society of North America],” attorney Richard Thompson explained in a news release.
“Instead of standing up to defend its citizens against ISBR’s hate-filled anti-Semitic and anti-Christian bias, the Township colluded with ISBR’s ‘Civilization Jihad’ by capitulating to payment of millions of dollars to ISBR, allowing the construction of the new mosque and Islamic center in violation of zoning codes, and now even suppressing speech concerning Islam or Muslims at a public meeting,” Thompson continued.
True enough, the court-ordered settlement which forbids citizens from bringing up their concerns about Islam is clearly printed for anyone to see.
The free discussion of ideas, even if they are critical or controversial, is one of the fundamentals of American liberty.
After all, the First Amendment wouldn’t be necessary at all if everyone shared identical opinions. Protecting the right to hold views with which some group — or the government — disagrees is the very reason speech protections exist in the first place.
It is hard to imagine the Founding Fathers forbidding the open debate of a specific topic.
Hopefully, freedom of speech will prevail… or our country may have deeper problems than we realize.