An Islamic society asked a federal judge Friday to compel a search of personal files belonging to members of a New Jersey township committee and planning board that the group is suing for denying an application to build a mosque.
The request comes after attorneys for the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge received documents revealing some Bernards Township officials named in its lawsuit used their personal email accounts to allegedly make statements showing animus or discrimination toward Muslims, according to a letter addressed to U.S. District Judge Lois. H. Goodman.
Those documents are part of evidence from the Justice Department, which filed its own federal lawsuit against Bernards Township last month. Both suits allege the township violated a religious land-use law when, after nearly four years of hearings, it disapproved a plan in January to construct a 4,252-square-foot mosque.
Bernards Township, which changed a zoning ordinance for houses of worship while the society's application was pending, has maintained it based its rejection on land-use considerations. The society, however, argues the township capitulated to anti-Muslim feelings in the community.
Bernards Township Mayor Carol M. Bianchi, who is also a defendant in the lawsuit, told NBC News in an email Sunday that attorneys were reviewing the Islamic society's court filings.
She added that township officials had no comment on their substance.
In April, attorneys for the Islamic society first asked township officials named in its complaint for emails, social media postings, texts, and instant messages relevant to the lawsuit, according to the letter. The request was part of the discovery process when attorneys from both sides share evidence with each other.
To date, the officials have refused to comply, saying they didn't use personal accounts or devices to conduct business, the letter said.
But the society's attorneys believe the Justice Department evidence proves otherwise, court papers said. They allege that those files from personal accounts contain "shocking statements that evidence [p]laintiffs' claims of discrimination."
On the personal email accounts of three township committee members, two of whom served on the planning board, was a November 2010 email chain that discussed excluding the society's president, Ali Chaudry, from a Sept. 11 commemoration event in Basking Ridge, according to court documents.
Chaudry previously served as the township's mayor.
"Let's work on something to freeze him out or be plain about why he is an unacceptable participant and [fi]nd a real moderate [M]uslim," the email said in part, according to court filings. "There must be one."
In another message, dated Jan. 18, 2015, a township committee and planning board member emailed two other township committee members with comments about an article on Islam.
"[A]s a religion, Islam owes its size and in[fl]uence to a tradition from Day One of forced conversion through violent means," the message reads in part.
And in an electronic diary kept on a township computer, a planning board staffer wrote that the mosque's "application was treated differently," according to the letter.
"Defendants have failed, despite repeated requests, to produce adequate information about the methodology used to generate the [Justice Department] production," the letter from the society's attorneys reads.
"Nonetheless, these documents clearly establish that personal emails contain relevant materials that must be searched by counsel in response to Plaintiffs' document requests in this litigation."