Some residents of a Georgia county are so upset about the possibility of a new mosque in their area that local officials have placed a temporary moratorium on all new houses of worship.
In 2015, Al Maad Al Islami, a mosque in Doraville, which is just north of Atlanta, purchased 135 acres in Newton County. Mosque officials have already received a permit from the county to open a house of worship – though they haven’t yet submitted building plans or sought a building permit, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Mohammad Islam, imam of this mosque, had said previously that he plans to build a cemetery and “simple” house of worship.
Unfortunately, he may never get the chance to move forward with the construction process thanks to paranoid area residents who seem to think the mosque will become an immediate training facility for terrorists and that it will attempt to impose Islamic law on the county.
During a recent public hearing on the matter, some residents were rather unhinged.
“To say we wish to disallow this project based on religious discrimination…is ludicrous and hypocritical,” said an unnamed woman. “[Muslims] are discriminating against us by calling us infidels who do not believe in their religion.”
She concluded: “We have the right to protect ourselves and our country.”
The Journal-Constitution gave no indication that this woman provided any evidence that the Al Maad Al Islami mosque posed a threat to anyone.
No one from the mosque attended the hearing, which drew about 300 people. But a Muslim resident who said he has lived in the county for eight years asked for tolerance.
“Get yourself a Muslim friend. It probably, I think, will open your mind a lot,” said a man identified as Zouhir.
A Jewish woman expressed similar sentiment.
“If this discussion was happening 100 years ago there’s a good chance it would be about my people,” Kendra Miller said. “I’ve heard whispers of killing people as I’ve sat here, as I’ve stood in line….I would hate for us to fall to that level again.”
No government should restrict worship based on fear.
In response to this mosque melodrama, county officials have placed a temporary moratorium on all new houses of worship. But that move could land them in legal trouble as the NAACP and more than one dozen Muslim groups have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the matter. The moratorium may violate a federal law called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which states that the government cannot put substantial burdens on the exercise of faith.
In the meantime, it seems Newton County’s extreme step to stop the establishment of a single mosque has harmed all religious groups in the process.
Observers of this incident are wondering if the county would have taken similar measures had complaints arisen from the construction of a new church. Most likely the answer is no. In fact, it’s unlikely that a Christian organization would have drawn any complaints at all.
So when people like County Commissioner Lanier Sims say they support religious freedom, as he told the Journal-Constitution he does, his words ring hollow. If a government actually supports religious freedom, it doesn’t stop all new houses of worship from opening just because a handful of its constituents don’t like the idea of a new mosque in town.
Hopefully this situation will quickly resolve, but history suggests that won’t be the case. And the longer this drags out, the more true religious freedom in Newton County will suffer.