A small Georgia city has voted to ban an Islamic group from renting a retail space to open a temporary mosque in the city, even after the landlord agreed to the deal.
The City Council of Kennesaw, a city of about 30,000 people in north Georgia, ultimately voted down the Muslim group’s request 4-1.
The issue has engendered a lot of tension in the town, and from critics outside of it. To give you a small idea of the intensity of the attitudes at play, here’s the video’s description from the man who recorded this week’s City Council vote: “The scumbag lawyer for the terrorist org. says he will sue… good luck with that.”
Attorney Doug Dillard called the decision unconstitutional and “a blatant attack on First Amendment rights.” He says the group will continue to fight and is strongly considering a federal lawsuit against the city.
Anti-Muslim protesters stood outside the meeting with signs such as “Ban Islam” and “Islam Wants No Peace!” but the issue of religion didn’t actually come up in the meeting itself.
That was deliberate. Mayor Mark Matthews forbade comment from the public about religion, so critics instead said they opposed the temporary mosque on the grounds of the center’s hours of operation, attendance, and parking.
The Muslim group had already agreed to limit attendance in the 2,200 square foot space to 80 worshipers at a time, building 40 parking spaces, and signing a two-year lease. In the end, it wasn’t nearly enough—because those were never the biggest issues at play.
A public hearing last month had no off-limit topics, so many citizens were blunt about their opposition to the mosque.
“I am first a Christian and then an American citizen,” resident Jo Talley said. “As a Christian I am to put no other God before my Lord, and I am also to love my neighbor. If you know me, then you know that I do my best to do those things … but I also have the right to protect myself. This project has to do with Sharia law.”
Resident Anthony Bonner said the debate was “bigger than just zoning and parking. This is bigger than right and wrong. This is not a religious debate. This is about a comment on the value and the merits of a community.”
In fact, the Marietta Daily Journal reports that the city allowed a Pentecostal church to rent a retail space for exactly the same purpose in July.
“You know, if Christianity were killing people, I’m pretty sure I would have a problem with it,” Pastor C.S. Clarke of the Redeemed Christian Fellowship Church told the media. “Then I would be concerned with that moving into my neighborhood. But, I’m open, I’m inclusive. Christianity does teach love, inclusiveness, creating a better environment for everyone.”