Judge Rules Ex-Firefighter Cannot Sue Over Mosque
By COLIN MOYNIHAN
July 10, 2011
A Manhattan judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a former New York City firefighter who is trying to stop the construction of an Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan.
The former firefighter, Timothy Brown, sought to overturn a decision by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to deny landmark status for a 150-year-old building on Park Place that would be demolished to make way for the center.
The building, which once housed a Burlington Coat Factory store, was damaged in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack that destroyed the World Trade Center two blocks away. Developers of the center, known as Park51, hope to erect a new building that would include a swimming pool, an auditorium and a mosque.
In a decision issued on Friday, Justice Paul G. Feinman of State Supreme Court in Manhattan wrote that Mr. Brown was “an individual with a strong interest in preservation of the building” but added that Mr. Brown lacked any special legal standing on its fate.
The community center project was proposed by a developer, Sharif el-Gamal; the imam of a nearby mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf; and his wife, Daisy Khan. Critics of the project contended that it was wrong to place a mosque so close to where the 9/11 attack was carried out by Muslim extremists. After a hearing in March, Mr. Brown called the developers “un-American.”
Supporters of the project, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, have maintained that under the Constitution, no one has the right to dictate where a house of worship may be located.
In court papers, Mr. Brown’s lawyers suggested that the decision to withhold landmark status had been influenced by the mayor.
A lawyer for the city called that argument “a conspiracy theory” and said the landmarks commission had followed proper procedures.
The decision removed what would appear to be the last legal challenge to the project, but the development faces other obstacles. Mr. Gamal has acknowledged, for instance, that he has not raised much of the $100 million needed to build the center.
Jack Lester, a lawyer for Mr. Brown, said on Sunday: “We believe the brave men and women who risked their lives have standing to preserve the monuments and historic buildings at ground zero.”
Mr. Gamal’s lawyer, Adam Leitman Bailey, called the decision “a victory for America” and said: “Despite the tempest of religious hatred, the judge flexed our Constitution’s muscles enforcing the very bedrock of our democracy.”