N.J. Town Must Pay Islamic Group $3.25 Million To Settle Discrimination Lawsuit

Muslim worshippers pray during a 2016 service at the Bernards Township Community Center in Basking Ridge, N.J.

Julio Cortez/AP

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Julio Cortez/AP

A New Jersey town must pay $3.25 million to a local Islamic society and allow it to build a mosque, ending a years-long dispute.

This is the result of settlements finalized on Tuesday stemming from two separate federal lawsuits against Bernards Township, in central New Jersey.

The $3.25 million settles the lawsuit filed by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge. And the ISBR will be allowed to move forward with its plans to build a mosque as a result of a lawsuit filed Justice Department.

“Federal law requires towns to treat religious land use applications like any other land use application,” acting U.S. Attorney of the District of New Jersey William Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “Bernards Township made decisions that treated the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge differently than other houses of worship.”

Both the Justice Department and the ISBR argued that Bernards Township violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects “individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws.”

Mohammed Ali Chaudry, president of the society, told NJ.com that they are “very pleased by this resolution and hope to receive prompt approval to build our mosque. … We look forward to welcoming people of all faiths and backgrounds to our mosque.”

This dispute started in 2011, when the ISBR purchased a home with the intention of building a mosque in a residential zoning district where it was, at that time, acceptable to establish places of worship.

But the plan was met with public opposition. The ISBR filed for site approval in 2012, which initiated 39 public hearings that spanned more than three years. “The Planning Board has never held such a large number of hearings for any previous site plan application,” according to the Justice Department’s complaint.

In Oct. 2013, the township enacted a new ordinance that “amended the classification of a house of worship from a permitted use in residential zoning districts to a conditional use,” the complaint added.

The new ordinance also required places of worship to be on a lot of at least 6 acres, larger than the 4-acre property where the ISBR wanted to build a mosque. Eight of the 11 houses of worship built and approved by the Planning Board before the rule was enacted were on lots smaller than 6 acres, the complaint says.

The Planning Board ultimately rejected the application in 2015, saying it was particularly concerned about its number of parking spaces. The plans had 50 spaces allotted, at a ratio of one for every three worshippers, which is the usual standard applied to other places of worship. But the Planning Board said the mosque needed 107 spaces.

The Justice Department said that higher number came from a “traffic engineer hired by a group of mosque opponents,” while the town said it came from a report introduced by an expert hired by the plaintiffs.

The planning board also said the mosque must follow more stringent storm-water management and fire lane procedures than those required of other institutions, according to the complaint.

Michael Turner, a spokesman for Bernards Township, denies the claims of discrimination. “The Planning Board denial was based on legitimate land use and safety concerns which Plaintiffs refused to address,” Turner added.

He said that the decision to settle was “not made lightly” and that the township is a “diverse and inclusive community.”

The Associated Press notes two other recent lawsuits on the same issue in New Jersey. “A similar lawsuit cost nearby Bridgewater Township almost $8 million in a 2014 settlement,” the wire service states. “Last week, a Muslim group sued the city of Bayonne, claiming its proposal to convert an abandoned warehouse into a mosque and community center was unfairly voted down amid a climate of hostility and religious intolerance.”

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From Pez To Ticks, 'Atlas Obscura' Discovers 'Wonderfully Specific' Museums

The Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia in California includes a comprehensive collection of Pez dispensers.


Flickr user Doctor Popular/Flickr Creative Commons
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Flickr user Doctor Popular/Flickr Creative Commons

There are museums, and then there are “wonderfully specific museums.”

Atlas Obscura writer Molly McBride Jacobson compiled a list of such unique institutions as the American Toby Jug Museum, the German Watering Can Museum and the U.S. National Tick Collection. Her list includes 86 places around the world.

Jacobson tells NPR’s Robert Siegel most of these collections are born out of one person’s obsession, like the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia.

“That was the work of Gary and Nancy Doss, and they had this computer repair shop,” Jacobson says, “and sort of collected Pez — I’m assuming the only real Pez memorabilia is Pez dispensers — but they collected these and displayed them sort of as a hobby in their shop and then that took over, and the entire shop became the Pez museum.”

Some of the places on Jacobson’s list are more scientific than silly, depending on how you look at it. The Museum of Snoring in Germany explores humans’ longstanding, concerted efforts to stop snoring.

“Basically as long as snoring has been around people have been trying to stop it,” Jacobson says. “You find all sorts of contraptions, some of them are almost surgical in their appearance. They go up your nose or into your sinuses. I like museums like this because they sort of lend a very specific lens to human history or human medicine.”

While most of these places begin as a person’s passion, Jacobson says the key to making a collection interesting depends on the variety of the items.

“In some cases, you know, someone has a collection, and it’s just a collection,” she says. … “But sometimes the size of the collection and the variety of the items that they have — whether they’re hand fans or mustard jars or garden gnomes — the variety in the breadth of the collection can actually tell you something about this phenomenon, and what people were doing when they were making gnomes or Pez dispensers.”

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Powerful New Ebola Vaccine Heads To Congo To Help Stop Outbreak

A woman is vaccinated at a health center in Conakry, Guinea, during the clinical trials of a vaccine against the Ebola virus.

Cellou Binani /AFP/Getty Images

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Cellou Binani /AFP/Getty Images

When Ebola erupted in West Africa a few years ago, it was catastrophic.

But one good thing emerged from the outbreak: The development of an Ebola vaccine — a powerful vaccine.

As we reported back in December, the vaccine provided 100 percent protection against Ebola when given quickly after exposure.

“It’s very unusual to have a vaccine that protects people perfectly,” said Ira Longini, a biostatistician at the University of Florida, who helped test the vaccine.

Now that vaccine is headed to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help fight a small outbreak there. Since late April, Congo has reported about 19 cases, the World Health Organization said.

On Monday, the Congo government agreed to use the vaccine.

“Now there’s a Medecins Sans Frontiers team that is arriving [in Congo] today to validate the protocol with the technical teams,” Jonathan Simba, a health ministry spokesman, toldReuters.

The outbreak already shows signs of slowing down. There hasn’t been a new confirmed case since May 11. And several suspected cases were ruled out last week.

Congo has a long history fighting Ebola. Since the virus was first detected there in 1976, the country has reported seven other outbreaks. In all instances, health workers have stopped the disease by isolating infected people. This is the first outbreak since the vaccine became available.

The vaccine — called rVSV-ZEBOV — took about two decades to develop. Scientists in the U.S. and Canada started working on it back in the 1990s and early 2000s. Then it sat on the shelf for years because of lack of funding.

Toward the end of the outbreak in West Africa, scientists began testing the vaccine in a large trial with more than 4,000 people. The shot worked extremely well and had mild side effects, such as headache and muscle pain.

The vaccine hasn’t been approved yet by either the World Health Organization or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That’s predicted to happen sometime in 2018.

But GAVI — the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization — has already spent $5 million to help finish the development and manufacturing of the vaccine, in partnership with the pharmaceutical company Merck.

Together, they have stockpiled 300,000 doses of the vaccine. Now the challenge is getting the shot to a remote corner of Congo.

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Saxophonist Sonny Rollins On His Colossal Archive

Sonny Rollins

Chuck Stewart/Courtesy of the artist

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Chuck Stewart/Courtesy of the artist

Sonny Rollins wasn’t really thinking about the formation of an archive as he went about his life and career over the last 60 years — as a tenor saxophonist of unsurpassed stature, an artist of active spiritual and social engagement, and an embodiment of jazz’s improvisational ideal.

But his accumulation of writings, recordings and other material does amount to a formidable collection, and it has now been acquired by The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. The acquisition will bring Rollins’ archive to the Schomburg’s location: at Malcolm X Boulevard near 135th Street in Harlem, a couple of blocks from where he was born in 1930, and in the neighborhood where he spent his youth.

Pages from Rollins’ notebooks: “Motives + Arms” and a meditation on quickness.

Jonathan Blanc/Schomburg Center, New York Public Library

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Jonathan Blanc/Schomburg Center, New York Public Library

“In that sense, it’s like coming home again,” Rollins said last week, speaking by phone from Woodstock, New York, where he now resides.

“A lot of these collections go into universities and then they’re put in the basement and that’s it, they’re never seen,” Rollins added. “So I’m glad that, according to what I’ve been told, this will be available to scholars and students and whoever else wants to see it.”

The collection, amounting to more than 150 linear feet of material, is comprised of all manner of written correspondence (notably to his late wife and manager, Lucille Pearson Rollins) as well as hand-lettered essays, notes and drawings; practice and rehearsal tapes, often with detailed annotations; and photographs of both the promotional and candid sort. Among the other historically significant objects is a tenor saxophone that Rollins used early in his career.

Cassettes from the Sonny Rollins archive.

Jonathan Blanc/Schomburg Center, New York Public Library

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Jonathan Blanc/Schomburg Center, New York Public Library

Shola Lynch, curator of the Schomburg Center’s Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division, noted that these documents sharpen the social and artistic context around Rollins, and span several jazz generations. “He is here in Harlem at that moment where he intersects with everybody on a personal and professional level,” Lynch said. “That is what you see in the collection: it’s his papers, it’s his diaries, it’s his notebooks. He writes about his aspirations, he writes about his interactions with various musicians. What it seems to reflect is a network.”

At the same time, most of this material comes from a protected, interior place. What the archive might best illuminate is the intensity of Rollins’ dedication to self-improvement, and not just on his horn. “I was somebody who was studying music on my own,” he said. “So a lot of what’s there is related to that: Musical exercises. Patterns which I needed to master. Stuff about the art of playing. And things that had to do with my general survivability.”

One of Sonny Rollins’ saxophones.

Jonathan Blanc/Schomburg Center, New York Public Library

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Jonathan Blanc/Schomburg Center, New York Public Library

Rollins ¬— who has received a National Medal of Arts and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, along with recognition at the Kennedy Center Honors and as an NEA Jazz Master — is well known for his spartan work ethic, and the self-critical instinct that has often motivated it. From 1959 to 1962, during what seemed the height of his powers, he famously disappeared into a pattern of solitary practice on the Williamsburg Bridge. That sabbatical, which ended with the release of an album naturally titled The Bridge, has become as much a part of Rollins’ legend as his marathon solos, which could spin a small melodic motif into an epic narrative arc.

Over the last four years, Rollins has been an emeritus eminence, no longer active as a player because of health concerns. It was during this time off the scene that he began to consider his archives, inspired by the example of his old friend and band mate, drummer Max Roach, whose collection was posthumously acquired by the Library of Congress in 2013.

“The idea was in the air, that it’s time for a lot of current musicians to get their papers together,” Rollins said, also citing the Randy Weston Collection at Harvard, which was announced last year.

The Schomburg Center, which is a research library as well as a physical archive, made recent news with another acquisition — of personal papers and writings by the essayist, playwright and social critic James Baldwin. In a sense, the Rollins archive joins that collection in dialogue, even though the two artists never met.

“There are definite parallels,” said Lynch, the curator, “because in many ways they are both sons of Harlem but they’re citizens of the world. They really touch on the diasporatic aspects of black culture, in that they were of segregation but transcended it.”

Selections from Sonny Rollins’ archive.

Jonathan Blanc/Schomburg Center, New York Public Library

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Jonathan Blanc/Schomburg Center, New York Public Library

Rollins acknowledged those implications but admitted to some related ambivalence. He’d originally thought that his archive would either go to the main branch of the New York Public Library, on 42nd Street, or to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, at Lincoln Center. “So when they began talking about the Schomburg Center for Black Culture, I felt for a moment that it has become ghettoized,” he said. “Just that sense of ‘Everything black has to be in one place’ — I’m sort of against that.”

At the same time, Rollins expressed satisfaction in the idea that he was, in some sense, returning home to Harlem. The archive will be catalogued and digitized, a process that will probably take more than a year, and then subsequently be made available both at the Schomburg Center and online through the New York Public Library database.

Artifacts from the Sonny Rollins’ archive.

Jonathan Blanc/Schomburg Center, New York Public Library

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Jonathan Blanc/Schomburg Center, New York Public Library

Scholars and historians will no doubt find much of interest, though it’s too early to say exactly what that might be. Rollins hasn’t kept track of what the collection entails. “If I decided to save something, I’m pretty certain that at least I felt it had some value at that time,” he said. “But as for what I kept, other than that, I’m not aware of what it might be. I’ll have to go down to the Schomburg one day and look at my own collection.”

Rollins had housed all of this material at his home in upstate New York — first in Germantown, and then Woodstock — and the process of surrendering it would seem to suggest a kind of unburdening. “I do feel better,” he said. “It was always in danger of something happening here, a flood or whatever. So I’m relieved that it’s now in their hands.”

Another benefit of the Schomburg Center’s acquisition has been more immediately tangible, and Rollins put it succinctly: “Now I can get two cars in my garage.”

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Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus To Perform At One Manchester Benefit Concert

Memorial candles are seen during a vigil on St Ann’s Square in Manchester, England on May 29, 2017, one week after a bomb attack at Manchester Arena.

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JON SUPER/AFP/Getty Images

Pop star Ariana Grande will return to Manchester this Sunday, June 4, as part of a concert, One Manchester, to be held at a famed cricket field southwest of the city. The concert is intended to honor and raise money for the victims and families of the May 22 bombing in the city. The attack, which occurred just outside of the Manchester Arena and was timed to coincide with the conclusion of a performance by Grande, killed 22 and injured dozens more.

Grande will be joined by Katy Perry, Coldplay, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Pharrell Williams, Usher, Take That, former One Direction member Niall Horan and others yet to be announced at the Emirates Old Trafford Cricket Ground, which can support an audience of 50,000.

Reached by telephone, One Manchester producer Live Nation, which also promoted Grande’s Dangerous Woman tour, of which last week’s Manchester Arena show was a part, directed NPR to an outside publicist when asked of specifics for Sunday’s concert, who responded that organizers are not commenting on security measures at this time. Attendance, pricing and other performers will be announced “in due course.”

Concerts in Manchester have had increased security since last week’s suicide attack, carried out by British-born Salman Abedi. A performance by The Courteneers that took place at Old Trafford this past weekend was subject to increased security, with all entering the venue searched and no bags being allowed on the grounds. The One Manchester benefit also mentions a similar no-bag policy and likely have concertgoers undergo equally stringent security measures.

A joint statement posted by trio of Manchester venues — Albert Hall, The Deaf Institute and Gorilla, all owned by the Trof company, which also operates two bar/restaurants in the city — indicated that events at all three would go forward as planned and that their “management and security teams are in regular communication with the police and relevant authorities and are continuously reviewing and enhancing our safety procedures.”

Fourteen people remained in custody in connection with an investigation into the bombing and 19 people, including six children, remained in critical condition as of Monday, The Guardian reported.

Net proceeds from the June 4 concert will be directed to the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund, a joint project of the British Red Cross and the Manchester City Council, with help from the Manchester Evening News. A statement from the Manchester City Council encouraged those directly affected, “for example young people and parents who were at the Arena and may have had minor injuries or witnessed traumatic event,” to contact a support line set up for them.

Fans who attended Grande’s May 22 concert are being offered free tickets to the event if they register by tomorrow, May 31. General admission tickets go on sale the following day, and the show will be televised worldwide via the BBC and streamed digitally by an as-yet-unnamed digital partner that will “be announced soon.”

A testimonial soccer match (a “for-fun” match that does not count towards teams’ standings) scheduled to celebrate the career of Manchester United footballer Michael Carrick — also a charity event — was moved to accommodate the concert.

“We are proud to be part of what promises to be an emotional occasion and a showcase of music, enjoyment, memories and reflection, that we can hope can go some way to easing the pain and heartache that this great city has endured in the last week,” David Hodgkiss, chairman of Lancashire County Cricket Club, told the Manchester Evening News. Hodgkiss continued, saying the field would “continue to work closely with the artists, promoters, Police, Trafford Council, Manchester City Council and all relevant authorities to ensure that the event is a fitting way to remember the 22 people who lost their lives, the hundreds who were injured, and the many other people who will never forget, and always be affected, by the awful events of Monday, 22 May, as well as continue to help promote the fundraising initiatives of the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund.”

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