Hundreds of Newton County residents debate mosque

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Hundreds of Newton County residents debate mosque

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Curtis Compton
Chris Hill, leader of the III% Georgia Security Force, speaks to the news media during a protest held on the town square Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, in Covington against building a mosque in Newton County. Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com

Hundreds of Newton County residents packed the historic courthouse in Covington Monday for public hearings on a planned mosque and Muslim cemetery that have sparked fierce opposition and prompted the county to issue a temporary moratorium on new places of worship.

The majority of speakers came out against the mosque, citing concerns over terrorism and assimilation of Muslims into the community. Some also said they were concerned about the impact of a large development.

“To say we wish to disallow this project based on religious discrimination … is ludicrous and hypocritical,” said a woman who did not give her name. “They are discriminating against us by calling us infidels who do not believe in their religion.”

“We have the right to protect ourselves and our country,” she concluded. Her comments were met with whoops and cheers from the 300 people in the audience.

Al Maad Al Islami, a Doraville mosque, purchased 135 acres on Ga. 162 road in June 2015, when it also received a county permit for a place of worship. The mosque does not have any business before the county. It has not submitted plans or applied for building permits. The board of commissioners has no plans to vote on any action following Monday’s hearings.

Not everyone was opposed to the mosque.

Brigette and Anthony Washington recently returned to Newton County after spending four years in the United Arab Emirates where Brigette taught high school English. They said they were concerned by what they considered anti-Muslim sentiment.

“We’ve had very positive experiences with Arabs and Muslims from different parts of the Middle East,” said Brigette Washington, adding that they were treated with the “utmost respect” in the U.A.E.

Anthony Washington, a retired law enforcement officer with Newton County Sheriff’s Department, waived a satirical “obituary” for the United States that someone had distributed among those waiting in line to enter the courthouse. The paper concluded that a “good Muslim” cannot be a “good American.”

“So much of what I lived contradicts what I am reading,” he said. “I was treated better there than I was here.”

Newton County held two public hearings Monday, at 6 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. For detailed coverage, visit myajc.com.

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