Several days before a hearing in which a zoning board denied a request to build a mosque here, a Bellbrook pastor and her husband received a phone call from a woman urging local residents to show up at the board meeting and oppose the mosque, the husband said.
The caller said the mosque should be blocked "because of what it says in the Quran, and these are bad people," said Brooks Heck, whose wife Terry is pastor of Bellbrook United Methodist Church. Brooks Heck is pastor of South Park United Methodist Church in Dayton.
The caller identified herself as a member of First Baptist Church of Kettering, now located in Sugarcreek Twp., Brooks Heck said. Terry Heck is traveling in Israel and couldn't be reached for comment.
About 300 people showed up for the Thursday night meeting when the board of zoning appeals voted 5-0 to deny a variance request that would have permitted the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton to build a mosque for up to 975 people and a family center for up to 400 on 15 acres it owns on South Alpha-Bellbrook Road.
The board denied the request because of the adverse impact on neighborhood traffic and property values. Sugarcreek Twp. Administrator Barry Tiffany said, "I can tell you that religion was never brought into it by the board at any time."
Barry Jude, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Kettering, said he didn't know of a calling campaign prior to the board meeting, but he said there have been announcements at his church urging Sugarcreek Twp. and Bellbrook residents to oppose the zoning. "We promote and propagate Christianity first and foremost," he said.
Karen Dabdoub of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Cincinnati said she was surprised by the zoning denial. During a public hearing in October, township officials "told us this was a pretty simple and straightforward application and they didn't see any problems with it," she said.
"This kind of thing is unfortunately very common across the country," Dabdoub said. "It's usually framed in terms of traffic and property values, but underneath it is a situation of religious tension."