ANN ARBOR, MI —The Thomas More Law Center (“TMLC”), a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, MI, announced that yesterday afternoon its affiliated New Jersey attorney, Mr. Michael Hrycak, filed a lawsuit against Bernards Township in New Jersey to void a secret deal by Township officials to allow the construction of a mosque by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge. The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, on behalf of Township resident Cody Smith.

The lawsuit alleges that various governmental entities of Bernards Township violated the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act (the so-called Sunshine Law) when they entered into settlements with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (Islamic Society). The Islamic Society and the DOJ had filed lawsuits in federal court alleging that the Township had discriminated against the Islamic Society when it declined to approve the construction of a large mosque on a lot that was far too small to handle the contemplated structure. However, the Township agreed to settle the cases without ever disclosing to the public the terms of those agreements. New Jersey courts have routinely held that the New Jersey Sunshine Law requires that the terms of proposed settlement agreements in land use lawsuits be disclosed to the public and open for public comment before any settlement is reached.

Prior to filing his lawsuit, Cody Smith made several attempts, both in writing and verbally at public meetings, to have the Township reveal the proposed terms of the settlements. The Township steadfastly refused, indicating it would not reveal the terms until the settlements were finalized.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of TMLC, observed, “There must be transparency in government. The attempt to shroud these settlements in secrecy is outrageous. Citizens have a right to know what agreements their elected officials are considering making in their names. Furthermore, these citizens have a right to have their public objections heard by their elected representatives before any vote is taken on a settlement.”

TMLC represents several Bernards Township residents who were served with intrusive and harassing subpoenas by Islamic Society attorneys. Their only involvement was to make comments at a public Township hearing. They were non-parties to the lawsuit, had never had an official role in the Township and had no authority to deny the Islamic Society’s permit request. Nonetheless, the subpoenas demanded the production of emails, voicemails, text messages, and social media posts concerning Muslims, Islam, or anything to do with Muslim worship. The subpoenas clearly infringed upon their First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association. The only purpose of the subpoenas was to punish residents who dared to oppose the Islamic Society’s request.

05/26/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) marks the third anniversary of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rise to power in India with concern over the continued deterioration of religious freedom and security for the country’s religious minorities. Since coming to power in May 2014, religious minorities, especially Christians and Muslims, have endured significant increases in attacks on their communities and places of worship.

Over the course of 2016, ICC documented 361 attacks on Christians and their places of worship, making 2016 one of the toughest years for Christians in India’s recent history. These attacks ranged from physical assaults to the vandalism of churches to social boycotts against Christians to even the rape of Christian women. In the first five months of 2017, ICC has already documented another 50 attacks, including a series of attacks leading up to the Easter holiday.

Many of these attacks were reportedly carried out by members of radical Hindu nationalist groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and the Bajrangdal, emboldened by the “tacit approval” of the current government led by Prime Minister Modi. According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), “Members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tacitly supported these groups and used religiously-divisive language to further inflame tensions.”

“Prime Minister Modi claims to be doing a better job for the country, but ever since he became Prime Minister things have become worse for Christians,” Pastor Mahesh Chand from Uttar Pradesh told ICC. “Attacks have increased year after year and there is sense of insecurity among the Christians as the authorities seem to be backing the Hindu radicals.”

“On average, at least one documented case is recorded every day by several Christian groups and helplines run, for instance, by the United Christian Forum,” Dr. John Dayal, a religious freedom activist in India, told ICC. “India faced sharp scrutiny at the United Nations Human Rights Council this May when its record of human rights violations in the 2012-16 Universal Period Review cycle came up for discussion in Geneva.”

William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “Today marks the end of another difficult year for Christians in India. Religious intolerance and hostility continue to rise as the BJP-led government fails to confront radical Hindu nationalist groups perpetrating much of the violence against India’s religious minorities. For India’s Christians, Prime Minister Modi’s time in office has been marked by little else than fear and the increasing violence facing members of their community. India’s constitution guarantees the right of religious freedom for all, yet Prime Minister Modi and his BJP-led government have done little to make this constitutional guarantee a reality for India’s religious minorities. If India is to continue to be considered one of the world’s leading secular democracies, this trend cannot and must not continue.”

05/26/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that multiple masked gunmen attacked a caravan of Coptic Christians traveling to the Monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in Minya province, Egypt. Minya province is approximately 140 miles south of Cairo.

Sources told ICC that two buses and two other vehicles were traveling from a village to the monastery to pray. Most of the passengers in the buses were children. The source also informed ICC that the caravan was “in front of the Abu Tartour plateau when 10 masked [militants] in four 4×4 vehicles intercepted [the caravan] …and opened fire.” The source continued, “[The attack] resulted in the death of 35, most of them kids and more than 25 are injured.” So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The precision and execution of this attack led the source to believe that “the militants carried out this attack very carefully; they knew the details of the trip and its time and ambushed the buses.”

In recent months, radical extremists have hunted Coptic Christians. In April 2017, ISIS suicide bombers killed approximately 70 Christians in two church bombings on Palm Sunday.

On May 6, a Coptic Christian, who ran away from El-Arish, was murdered after he returned to his barbershop. Four masked gunmen shot him, following the pattern established in the January and February murders of seven Coptic Christians.

In February 2017, hundreds of Christian families fled their homes in El-Arish, a city located in the Sinai Peninsula, after ISIS carried out a series of murders targeting Christians. Between January 30 and February 23, seven Christian men living in and around El-Arish were targeted and murdered by masked men. During the height of the killings, an ISIS affiliate in the Sinai region promised to eliminate the Christian minority, claiming that Egypt’s Christians were the group’s “favorite prey.”

On December 11, 2016, a suicide bomber attacked the small church of St. Peter and St. Paul, attached to St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral located in Cairo. As a result of that attack, 25 Christians, mostly women and children, were killed.

Coptic Christians make up approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 92 million. These constant attacks have created an atmosphere of insecurity and fear among Coptic Christians. President al-Sisi declared a state of emergency after the Palm Sunday bombings, but it has done little to curb the violence.

William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “These attacks are blatant and targeted acts of persecution against Christians. Extremist groups, especially ISIS, have declared Christians to be their ‘favorite prey’ and seek to eliminate the Christian minority. The government must be more intentional about protecting vulnerable minorities and punishing the attackers. Continual support for displaced families is vital, whether it is food, housing, or medical care. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families during this difficult time.”

Graphic photos here.