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Judge refuses to stop mosque construction

MURFREESBORO — A judge denied a request Wednesday for a temporary restraining order to stop construction at the site of a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro.

Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew said after closing arguments that he didn’t find that the “county acted illegally, arbitrarily or capriciously,” when county planners approved the site plan for an Islamic center.

The lawsuit claimed that the Tennessee open meetings law was violated because the planners failed to file adequate public notice of the meeting.

But much of the questioning from plaintiffs attorney Joe Brandon Jr. during seven days of testimony since late September focused on whether Islam qualified as a religion and his theory that American Muslims want to replace the Constitution with extremist Islamic law.

Corlew said the court did not find that members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro adhered to extremist religious ideas.
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Mosque leaders want to expand their facilities to accommodate a growing congregation and currently the proposed site is being prepared but no construction has started. Federal investigators are looking into arson at the construction site that burned a dump truck, and vandals have twice defaced a sign announcing the Islamic center is being built there.

# Nashville lawyer nominated for federal bench

NASHVILLE — President Barack Obama has nominated Nashville attorney Kevin H. Sharp to the federal bench.

Sharp was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.

The White House said in a statement Wednesday that Sharp is a partner in the law firm of Drescher & Sharp and focuses on federal court litigation. He was previously with Stokes, Bartholomew, Evans & Petree and was an attorney in Congress’ Office of Compliance from 1996 to 1997.

He is a graduate of Christian Brothers College and Vanderbilt University School of Law and served in the Navy, the statement said.

# Court: School ban on Confederate flag apparel OK

KNOXVILLE — A federal appeals court has upheld a district court’s ruling that a school’s ban on Confederate clothing was a reasonable attempt to prevent disruptions.

Tommy Defoe sued Anderson County school officials after he was sent home and then suspended for insubordination in 2006 for wearing a T-shirt and a belt buckle bearing the image of the Confederate battle flag. He said he wanted to display his pride in his Southern heritage. In court filings, he claimed school officials violated his First Amendment rights.

U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan in August 2009 threw out Defoe’s suit. On Thursday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati affirmed that decision.

The court found that racial tensions and incidents at the school were such that banning displays of the Confederate flag was a reasonable way to prevent disruption and violence.

# Scholars recall Baker’s work during Watergate

KNOXVILLE — The values of former Sen. Howard Baker Jr. of Tennessee during the Watergate hearings in the 1970s are needed today, scholars said Wednesday.

At the final day of a two-day conference examining Baker’s career, he was remembered as a model of nonpartisanship during the hearings following the break-in at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.

As vice chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee, Baker played a central role in hearings that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon as president.

He coined the phrase, “What did the president know and when did he know it?”

# Man injured while caving

CLINTON — An injured man had to be rescued from a cave in Anderson County.

WATE-TV reports emergency crew were called to the cave at just after midnight on Wednesday. The 25-year-old victim, whom officials have not yet identified, was about 500 feet inside the cave and it took rescue squads several hours to get him out.

The man was exploring a cave on private property in the Claxton community.

Donnie Shipley, of the Claxton Fire Department, said there are a lot of injuries at that cave. He said it looks like an easy descent, but it actually is very slippery.

The victim was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center with a broken leg.

# Parking employee accused of taking $1.9M over 5 years

NASHVILLE — A former treasury analyst for Central Parking Corporation is accused of embezzling more than $1.9 million from the Nashville-based company.

A news release from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Middle District of Tennessee says prosecutors believe 51-year-old Mary Harris of Pleasant View fraudulently transferred Central Parking funds to her own bank account between August 2004 and August 2009.

She is accused of then trying to cover up the transfers by making fraudulent accounting entries in Central Parking’s ledger and creating false e-mails.

# Mine reopened after 3 injured in accident

HARLAN, Ky. — An eastern Kentucky mine where three miners were injured in a collision between a personnel carrier and a supply hauler has reopened.

Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing spokesman Dick Brown says the Bledsoe Coal Corporation’s Abner Branch Mine in Harlan County was back in service Thursday.

Two miners, 27-year-old David Estes of Harlan and 37-year-old Lowell Harris of Putney remained hospitalized Thursday at Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, Tenn. Their conditions have not been released.

A third miner, 30-year-old Michael Peterson of Putney, was treated and released from Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital on Wednesday.

Brown said the accident remains under investigation and the personnel carrier has been taken off line during the probe.

# October jobless rate unchanged at 9.4 percent

NASHVILLE — Tennessee’s unemployment rate for October was 9.4 percent, unchanged from September.

The comparable national figure was 9.6 percent.

State Labor Commissioner James Neeley said Thursday that job increases are becoming much more diverse across industries with the private sector mostly showing job growth in the past year.

There were job increases in October in trade, transportation, utilities, professional & business services and local government educational services.

Major employment decreases occurred in leisure and hospitality, nondurable goods manufacturing and federal jobs.

# Case of teacher who pointed gun at teens goes on

CHATTANOOGA — A judge said a teacher accused of holding nine teenagers at gunpoint as they left a private cemetery was a good person who used bad judgment.

Police say Hamilton County teacher Stacy Swallows stopped a group of teenagers leaving the cemetery by blocking the road with his truck and pointing an assault rifle at them.

Swallows’ supporters defended him at a hearing Wednesday, saying he was only trying to protect Shipley Cemetery, near his home.

But Hamilton County Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon said the teens who drove to Shipley Cemetery in September did nothing wrong.

“They were curious ghostbusters, but they weren’t criminals,” he said.

They weren’t even trespassing because the road they drove around on in the graveyard is owned by Hamilton County, Moon added.

The teens testified at the hearing that they went to the cemetery that night to check out a legend that a bright light from a ghost spirit will appear if you drive around the graveyard three times.

“It’s scary out there,” said Cole Stevens. “All my friends know about the story.”

Stevens said Swallows was furious when he stopped the group.

“I didn’t know if (the gun) was going to pop off,” Stevens said. “He looked mad, like I had done something to him. ... I said I’m sorry. I mean, I had a gun pointed at me.”


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