Two days after news broke of a proposed mosque outside of Covington, Newton County Commission Chairman Keith Ellis confided to a constituent that the commission seemed to have little wiggle room.
“There is only one decision the board may face. The school, if they decide to build one, will need a conditional use permit. The mosque and cemetery do not require any approval. They can build them under the current zoning by law,” he wrote in an Aug. 11 email.
He concluded, “As Christians, we must be prayed up. We face spiritual warfare daily. I will attempt to do as Jesus would do.”
While Ellis was invoking Christ, interim County Manager Lloyd Kerr tapped the spirit of Founding Father James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights.
“It is important to remember that freedom to practice one’s faith is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights,” Kerr wrote in an email to commissioners Aug. 13. “This right is further protected by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act that prohibits local governments from burdening citizens desiring to use land for purposes of worship with regulations not required of other similar land uses.”
Those emails were among the dozens commissioners either sent or received in August as controversy over the planned mosque raged. Email from constituents ran the gamut from suggesting the backers of the mosque wanted to build an ISIS training camp to pleas to commissioners not to ensnare the county in an expensive and hopeless lawsuit.