Featured Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Feds Charge Texan for Bomb Threat to Murfreesboro Mosque

A Texas man has been indicted for threatening to bomb a planned Muslim community center in Murfreesboro.

Law enforcement say Javier Alan Correa, 24, of Corpus Christi, called the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro on Sept. 5, 2011, and said there was a bomb in the building that would explode on the anniversary of Sept. 11.

He has been charged with intentionally obstructing a free exercise of religion by threat of force and with using an instrument of interstate commerce to threaten to destroy a building with explosives, said Jerry Martin, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee.

Although Correa has not been taken into custody, the U.S. Attorney’s office is in communication with his legal counsel to discuss surrender, Martin said.

If convicted, Correa faces up to 20 years in prison.

The mosque’s approval in 2010 sparked protests and a lawsuit, even as construction has moved forward at the site southeast of Murfreesboro. A judge earlier this month ruled that the public notice for a meeting to approve the construction plans was inadequate, which has put in limbo plans to have a first section of the building open in time for Ramadan at the end of July.

Federal investigators are also still looking into an incident of arson at the site in 2010.

“These despicable acts are not only illegal, but are also completely contrary to our American way of life,” Martin said. “So let there be no question. If you interfere with anyone’s constitutionally guaranteed right to worship and assemble, you will face federal prosecution and severe penalties.”

In Nov. 2010, the Department of Justice also filed an amicus, or friend of the court, brief in relation to the ongoing lawsuit, in which plaintiffs had asserted that Islam is not a legitimate religion.


$20K Reward for Mosque-Site Arson Arrest

Federal law enforcement agents are offering $20,000 for information that leads them to solving a case of vandalism at the construction site of a proposed mosque and Islamic cultural center in Rutherford County.

On Aug. 28 a fire was set to construction equipment at the site of a future Islamic Center of Murfreesboro worship house and community hall south of Murfreesboro. The case has garnered widespread media attention.

“We are bringing all our resources to bear to make sure this case gets into federal court so justice can be served,” Steven Gerido, an assistant special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said during a press conference at the mosque construction site Friday.

He called the case “high profile,” but stopped short of labeling it a “hate crime.”

“We don’t feed into all of the different circumstances surrounding the event itself,” Gerido added.

The FBI and BATFE have confirmed the act was, as has already been widely reported, a case of arson. Laboratory tests for the use of fire “accelerants” at the site returned positive, agents said.

“The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, ATF and FBI are continuing to investigate and no further information regarding the ongoing investigation can be provided at this time,” Gerido said.

Cami Ayash, spokeswoman for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has in the past called the incident a “shameful crime…instigated by the hate campaign that our Muslim community has been subjected to recently.”

“Somebody knows something, and hopefully this is an incentive to get someone to step forward,” she said.

On Friday Ayash elaborated on mosque leaders’ thinking on events of the past few weeks and months. Had they the chance to plan the development and initiate construction on their new facilities all over again, they probably would not have done so at the height of an election season, she said.

“All of this started because of bad timing on our part,” said Ayesh. “A lot of people were running their campaigns off of ‘terrorist training camps’ and things like that. Unfortunately, when you have people that plant that initial seed, then you have those who want to take it and run with it, and take the law into their own hands.”

“I really don’t think there is anything politically motivating whoever did this,” Ayash added.

Featured News Transparency and Elections

Multiple Fronts in Congressional Primary Title Fight for ‘Most Conservative’

Two state senators running for Congress and campaigning against federal spending are reacting with surprise and fact-checking to claims by an opponent who says they are guilty of “cheap talk” and “expensive votes” in the Legislature.

Meanwhile, their 6th District congressional race involves a hot-button issue over a planned mosque in Murfreesboro that has crept into the campaign with various twists.

State Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, issued a detailed press release Wednesday in response to television advertising claims by former Rutherford County Republican Party chairman Lou Ann Zelenik that hits Black and state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, on spending. The three are considered the top contenders in a crowded field in the Republican primary to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon.

Zelenik has an ad running that says, “Diane Black and Jim Tracy Increased Spending $5.1 Billion Over 3 Years” and that the two lawmakers broke the state budget spending cap.

The ad does not define the spending cap, but the Zelenik campaign has said the reference is to the “Copeland Cap,” a constitutional provision that says the General Assembly may not spend more than Tennessee’s economy grows. The Copeland Cap was enacted in 1978 and is so named for the legislator at the time, Rep. David Copeland, who led the cause.

The Copleland Cap is easily broken in the budget process, however, since it takes only a majority vote to break the cap. The Legislature needs only to muster the same number of votes that approved the budget in order to break the cap.

Efforts have been made in recent years to raise the threshold for breaking the cap from a simple majority vote to a two-thirds majority. Black and Tracy, in fact, have been involved in those efforts. But the effort has failed.

“I voted against breaking the Copeland Cap this year and did not vote for the budget, so I’m not sure exactly what she’s talking about,” Tracy said. “I guess it was the year we put money in the Rainy Day Fund, which broke the Copeland Cap, which I think was the right thing to do.

“We had some money there. We put money in our Rainy Day Fund. I think it may be one of the reasons why the state is in as good a shape as we are.”

Black’s release Wednesday said statements in the Zelenik ad are misleading, saying this year the budget actually decreased by 0.3 percent and that the budget has decreased in two of the last three fiscal years. The release also said Black has consistently opposed breaking the Copeland Cap in her career but acknowledges she broke the cap in 2007 because the money went into the Rainy Day Fund.

The Senate passed this year’s budget bill 30-3. Tracy voted against it with Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet. Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, voted present and not voting. The House passed the budget 94-0.

The Senate approved the measure breaking the Copeland Cap 28-4-1, with the no votes including Tracy and Black. The House approved breaking the cap 82-10.

Black’s statement says Black is a “fiscal conservative, who strongly believes in saving.”

Black’s campaign release Wednesday also took exception to a recent Zelenik campaign statement saying Black is a “closet liberal.”

Zelenik’s statement said Black refused to vote against or lead an effort against honoring Hedy Weinberg (pdf), the Tennessee director of the American Civil Liberties Union, although Zelenik’s statement did not refer to Weinberg by name.

The Black campaign countered that the resolution honoring Weinberg was brought up but that Black refused to vote on the motion because of its political nature, offering a link to video of the Senate proceedings to prove its point. The campaign statement noted that the precise time of the parliamentary move to stop consideration of the measure came at 1:45:20 mark in the proceedings.

Meanwhile, Zelenik has taken issue with a mosque being built in Murfreesboro, which she decries as an “Islamic training center.” The 52,000-square foot facility was approved by the local planning commission, but it has led to a backlash, then a backlash to the backlash.

Demonstrations were held Wednesday in Murfreesboro both by opponents of the mosque and a group defending it on grounds of religious freedom, and the mosque has become an issue in the 6th District congressional campaign. Approval of the mosque appears to fall under the protection of a state law known as the Religious Freedom Act, which included Tracy among its co-sponsors. Both Tracy and Black voted for it.

The issue was ratched up this week when Zelenik’s campaign claimed in a press release it has information that one of the board members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Mossad Rowash, has supported the terrorist group Hamas. On Monday, the Islamic center posted on its Web site that it was made aware of allegations against Rowash and that he was being suspended pending further investigation. The center spelled the name “Rawash” on first reference then “Rowash.”

Zelenik was quick to denounce the Islamic center in June, saying in a campaign statement that the center is not part of a religious movement but a political movement. Ben Leming, a candidate in the Democratic primary, defended the mosque, accusing Zelenik of intolerance and complimented Tracy and Black for their support of the religious freedom law.

Yet another candidate in the Democratic primary, George Erdel, who refers to himself as a “tea party Democrat” has been an active opponent of the mosque and helped organize a recent meeting in Rutherford County for a lecture on Sharia law in the Islamic culture.