A Muslim group in Kennesaw, Georgia, a city located 30 miles (50 km) outside of Atlanta, may file a lawsuit after its application to lease a space in a local strip mall to worship was denied Monday night. Local residents and members of a Muslim community outside of Atlanta have since taken to Twitter to react to the controversial news.
Honestly, we need a mosque up here... Like Kennesaw needs some diversification. We see too many Southern Baptist churches around here.
— lex luther (@slmxny) December 3, 2014
since kennesaw won't allow a mosque all Muslims are welcome to use my house as a mosque take that @citykennesaw
— whitney (@whitneythegr8) December 2, 2014
I used to be a member of the Kennesaw City Youth Council -- my first representative position! -- the mosque thing is a catastrophe
— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) December 3, 2014
My hometown, Kennesaw, GA voted not to allow a mosque to build there, proving that I come from a long line of garbage http://t.co/HUZyLRJhJU
— Ëric Bröwn (@ericbrownzzz) December 3, 2014
I'm not a fan of Islam by any stretch, but the ONLY WAY you can LAGALLY ban a mosque is to throw away the First... http://t.co/I1QCI82Gjj
— Brian Foulkrod (@BrianFoulkrod) December 3, 2014
Bigots in Georgia deny a permit for a mosque in a local shopping center. http://t.co/3kHZKZt6Rs
— Imraan Siddiqi (@imraansiddiqi) December 2, 2014
The good people of Kennesaw, Georgia seem to require a reminder that Islam is entitled to First Amendment protections http://t.co/KkZmrOPge6
— Sarah Jones (@onesarahjones) December 2, 2014
The city council voted 4-1 against the proposal for the group to use a 2,200-square-foot (200 square meter) suite in a shopping center for daily prayers, Friday services and religious gatherings citing a “land use issue” as the reason. That is, the space can be used for “highway general business,” which includes restaurants, pubs and nightclubs, but not places of worship.
“We think it’s discriminatory, and it violates equal terms,” Doug Dillard, the attorney representing the Suffa Dawat Center, told The Marietta Daily Journal. The vote comes after a similar proposal by a Christian church was approved in July. The church was allowed to rent space in a nearby retail center. According to city spokeswoman Pam Davis, the church’s location had a “completely different zoning” than the proposal put forth by the Islamic group.
In past meetings over the proposal, residents said they were worried the center would create traffic problems in the area. In Islam prayers are held five times a day -- before sunrise, at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset and in the evening. According to the application submitted by Suffa Dawat Center, the space would be used for these daily prayers, which are 10 to 15 minutes long.
The group agreed to limit the capacity of each service to 80 people and would agree to limit parking to 40 spaces. They added that the space would be a temporary solution until the group found a permanent location.
While the city council cited zoning as its main reason to turn down the group’s proposal, comments made at a public hearing and in front of City Hall after the vote was made Monday may tell a different story.
“[Muslims] are moving into all these small towns, and they’re camping out,” Karen Untz, from nearby Cunning, Georgia, said outside City Hall on Monday. “There’s no such thing as a temporary mosque. They claim the space and they teach Shariah law.”
“The Christian religion is very peaceful. It teaches us to turn the other cheek, and that’s what we’re doing,” Chad Legere from Mableton, Georgia, said outside City Hall. He held a flag with the Star of David. “This flag incites them. It makes them mad.”
Arden Stone, a Kennesaw resident, says she is ashamed by the council’s decision. “Legally, they have a right to be there. I think the council was swayed either by their own prejudices or the prejudices of the people here protesting,” she said.
During a public hearing on the Islamic worship center on Nov. 25, the center’s spokesman, Amjad Taufique, told residents that their stereotypes are unfounded.
“My kids and your kids probably grew up together, played together, went to school together,” Taufique said. “Please do understand that law-abiding is a concern for me just as it is to you.”
Still, some residents remain fearful by the associations Islam has with extremists seen in the Middle East. “We have heard so many bad things about the Islamic religion, about Shariah law and you see it on TV, and we’re scared of you. I’ll tell you I’m scared to death of you,” Ann Pratt, a 31-year resident of Kennesaw, said at the public hearing.
Dillard says the group could file a federal lawsuit against the city on First Amendment grounds. He said other religious groups in similar circumstances in metropolitan Atlanta have reached out-of-court settlements in the past.
One of the most high-profile cases took place in 2010 in the city of Lilburn. The city rejected twice an Islamic center’s proposal to build a mosque. The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the city, citing violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that protects religious institutions from zoning and landmark discrimination. In 2011 the city settled the case out of court and approved the mosque.
Dillard, who also represented that congregation, said something similar can take place in Kennesaw.
“The First Amendment was the First Amendment for a reason,” Dillard said after the vote in Kennesaw. “Irrespective of whether you believe the religious beliefs of particular folks, this country was founded in the right to worship as we please in peaceful assembly. And that’s all these people want. And they’ve been denied that right tonight. And my advice to them is not to take it laying down.”