(ATLANTA, GA, 8/18/16)Â – The Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-GA)Â today called on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate Newton County for blocking Georgia Muslims from building a house of worship on their own property, despite prior county approvalÂ and local law allowing them to do so.
A proposal to build a mosque and a Muslim cemetery in Covington, Ga., has been put on hold after the Newton County Board of Commissioners enacted a moratorium on religious-related building permits.Â Public comments leading up to the moratoriumÂ by opponents of the proposal included anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments.
“Newton's county commissioners abandoned their oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, as well as their own local laws, because of fear and bigotry,” said CAIR-GA Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell. “We urge federal authorities to investigate this clearly discriminatory decisionÂ and protectÂ the religious rights of all Georgians.”
He noted that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) requires Newton County to grant any religious organization valid permits to construct a house of worship or cemetery on its property on the same terms as any other religious group.Â
In this case, county law permits religious groups to build houses of worship and cemeteriesÂ afterÂ they acquire approval, which this mosque has received.Â Christian groups have made use of this provision in the past without issue. Only when a Muslim group attempted to do so did the county board see the need to suspend this right.
Commissioner John Douglas, who once called an African-American woman a “street walkerÂ knee grow” during a racist tirade online, openly admitted that he opposed the mosque because it is a mosque.
â€œThe first question that comes to my mind is if there are enough Muslims in south Newton County that we need to build not only a mosque but a community, a school and what all is in the plan,â€ Douglas told The Rockdale Citizen. â€œWould building those things make us a prime area for the federal government to resettle refugees from the Middle East? So I do have some concerns, like the people who live down there,â€ said Douglas.
When Douglas and his fellow commissioners voted to freeze the project, a packed crowd exploded in applause, further proof of the bigotry at play, Mitchell said.
“When a church secures a permit to build a new house of worship, none of the commissioners object, much less take the extraordinary step ofÂ underminingÂ county law,” Mitchell said. “The Newton commissioners must now decide whetherÂ thisÂ anti-MuslimÂ discrimination will end at their next public meeting, or inside a federal courtroom.”
CAIR has successfullyÂ defendedÂ the religious rights of a number of Muslim communities nationwide based on RLUIPA, which protects individuals, houses of worship and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws.
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
La misiÃ³n de CAIR es mejorar la comprensiÃ³n del Islam, fomentar el diÃ¡logo, proteger las libertades civiles, capacitar a los musulmanes estadounidenses, y construir coaliciones que promuevan la justicia y la comprensiÃ³n mutua.
– END –