ATLANTA, GA, 8/18/16) – The Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-GA) 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 approval and local law allowing them to do so.
Rev. Dr. Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), attorney Azadeh Shahshahani of Project South and nearly twenty Georgia Muslim non-profit organizations co-signed a letter that CAIR Georgia sent directly to the commissioners.
“Newton County’s 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 decision and protect the religious rights of all Georgians.”
Neither CAIR Georgia, the Georgia NAACP or the other civil rights organizations currently represent or speak for the targeted mosque, which hopes to privately resolve the situation with the county commissioners, but all the organizations believe that the U.S. Department of Justice should simultaneously investigate the county’s actions.
“Although the targeted mosque hopes the Newton County Commission will quickly and privately agree to resolve this situation, CAIR Georgia and other civil rights organizations stand ready to intervene and assist if the county commission does not quickly end its discrimination,” Mitchell said. “In the meantime, the Justice Department should investigate the county’s blatantly unconstitutional actions.”
SEE: Plan for Georgia Mosque, Cemetery on Hold After Newton Commissioners Issue Moratorium
Mitchell 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.
In this case, county law permits religious groups to build houses of worship and cemeteries after they acquire approval, which this mosque has received. 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 walker knee grow” during a racist tirade online, openly admitted that he opposed the mosque because it is a mosque.
SEE: Ga. Official Apologizes For Calling Black Woman A ‘Street Walker Knee Grow’
“The 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,” Douglas told The Rockdale Citizen. “Would 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,” said Douglas.
SEE: Reaction to Mosque Plan Mostly Critical
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 of undermining county law,” Mitchell said. “The Newton commissioners must now decide whether this anti-Muslim discrimination will end at their next public meeting, or inside a federal courtroom.”
CAIR has successfully defended 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.
SEE: CAIR-MN Welcomes Judge’s Decision in Favor of Planned Islamic Cemetery
CAIR-MI Welcomes DOJ Suit Over Zoning Denial for Islamic School
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 misión de CAIR es mejorar la comprensión del Islam, fomentar el diálogo, proteger las libertades civiles, capacitar a los musulmanes estadounidenses, y construir coaliciones que promuevan la justicia y la comprensión mutua.
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