Feds weigh whether to investigate Newton County mosque debate

An overflow crowd waits in line outside the historic Newton County courthouse during the first town hall meeting to discuss plans to build a mosque and cemetery in the county on Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, in Covington. The turnout forced the county to hold two meetings back to back to accommodate residents wanting to speak. Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com

An overflow crowd waits in line outside the historic Newton County courthouse during the first town hall meeting to discuss plans to build a mosque and cemetery in the county. Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com

Federal prosecutors have taken the first step toward opening an investigation into a vote by Newton County commissioners to block the construction of a mosque, a Muslim advocacy group said Tuesday.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell of the Georgia chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations said the Department of Justice informed him it was reviewing the case and would next decide whether to launch a formal probe. A Justice Department spokesman confirmed the office received his request but declined to comment further.

The federal scrutiny comes after the vote last week that imposed a five-week moratorium on permits for all places of worship in Newton County. Local lawmakers unanimously voted for the moratorium after residents raised concerns over plans by Al Maad Al Islami for a mosque, cemetery and burial facility on a 135-acre tract of land.

“The fact that they’re even looking at it should lead the Newton County Commission to come to its senses and avoid the possibility of a legal battle,” said Mitchell.

Here’s more on the debate from our AJC colleague Meris Lutz, who reported that hundreds packed a Covington courthouse on Monday for hearings on the mosque.

The majority of speakers came out against the mosque, citing concerns over terrorism and assimilation of Muslims into the community. Some expressed fear that the mosque would become an al-Qaida training camp or impose Sharia law on the community.

A few said they were concerned about the impact of a large development.

Georgia politicians have long struggled to grapple with proposals for mosques. Kennesaw’s city council initially rejected a request to allow a storefront mosque before reversing under the threat of a lawsuit. And Lilburn legislators voted to allow a mosque to expand after costly litigation and pressure from the Justice Department.


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