I am Edward Ahmed Mitchell, attorney and executive director of the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, our nation’s largest and oldest Muslim civil liberties organization. We engage in interfaith dialogue, counter extremism, and defend the U.S. Constitution by investigating incidents of anti-Muslim discrimination.
On behalf of the listed signatories, including the Georgia chapter of the NAACP and INSERT OTHER GROUP, we write in regard to your decision to freeze the planned construction of a local Muslim house of worship, despite a permit and local law allowing Newton's Muslim community to proceed.
As you know, the Newton County Commission’s decision came after a week in which local leaders and citizens expressed opposition to the project based largely on anti-Muslim bigotry.
“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,” Commissioner John 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.”
Local leaders also expressed opposition to the mosque because it is a mosque.
“Please, pray for our county regarding the proposed mosque to be built here (right in front of our church!)," the County Line Baptist Church said in a Facebook post before the Aug. 15 meeting. "God is able to thwart the plans of men. The Newton County Board of Commissioners will meet tonight. Pray for that meeting.”
Community members also contacted your office to express outrage based on anti-Muslim bigotry. As Commissioner Douglas told The Rockdale Citizen, “I’ve got some unhappy campers out there. “All the emails I’ve gotten this morning have been negative for various and sundry reasons.”
Indeed, we suspect that a Freedom of Information Act Request would reveal that your offices were overwhelmed with messages expressing anti-Muslim sentiments. A packed audience at your public meeting even applauded when you unanimously voted to freeze the project.
Although we understand that you must always consider such community concerns, those concerns should never trump your obligation to uphold the U.S. Constitution and federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as your own local laws.
If a group of Protestants had secured a permit to build a new church and a Christian cemetery, the commission would not have objected, much less taken the extraordinary step of undermining county law with a sweeping moratorium.
Although you may consider this moratorium constitutional because it impacts all potential projects equally, the fact that the moratorium was clearly motivated by opposition to the faith identity of this specific project makes the moratorium as offensive as it is unconstitutional.
This discriminatory behavior has harmed the reputation of Newton County and undermined American values. Such anti-Muslim bigotry could also embolden ISIS and other radical extremist groups overseas who seek new recruits by arguing that that our nation is at war with American Muslims.
For the sake of combating extremism, upholding American values and treating all citizens equally, we ask you to voluntarily bring this discrimination to an end at your next public meeting.
We call on you to lift the moratorium, publicly apologize to the people of Newton County, and collaborate with your American Muslim constituents to ensure that their new house of worship comes to fruition in a way acceptable to all interested parties.
CAIR-GA would also like to meet with the county commission to deliver an educational presentation about the beliefs and practices of the American Muslim community, which includes many doctors, lawyers, police officers, engineers, business owners, athletes, and entertainers, as well as 5,000 American Muslims who serve in the U.S. military. We hope that this informational presentation will correct the misinformation about Islam that often leads to anti-Muslim bigotry.
Please respond as soon as you can. If we do not hear a positive response before or at the next county commission meeting on Aug 22nd, we will have no choice but to insist that that U.S. Department of Justice take action against Newton County resolve this situation.
Edward Ahmed Mitchell
Attorney & Executive Director,
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Rev. Dr. Francys Johnson
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People