Newton County Commission Chairman Keith Ellis listens while residents speak out in opposition while holding two town hall meetings to discuss plans to build a mosque and cemetery in the county on Monday, August 22, 2016, in Covington. Curtis Compton /

Mayors to Newton County government: Stop embarrassing us over mosque

The mayors of all five towns in Newton County called on the county commission Friday to stop “embarrassing” the community, referring to its handling of a planned mosque and cemetery.

The county has drawn widespread condemnation and possible scrutiny by the Department of Justice for issuing a temporary moratorium on new places of worship in response to local opposition to the project.

“The nation is watching Newton County… and we are being embarrassed by our County leaders,” reads a letter penned by Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston and signed by the other four mayors. ” … You have already driven a wedge between our community and those associated with the proposed mosque and we will all have to work to undo some of the ill will you created by your actions.”

On Monday, the county commission held two back-to-back “town hall” meetings to discuss the project, even though there was nothing for the commission to vote on as the congregation that bought the property last year has yet to submit plans or apply for any building permits. The majority of speakers came out against the mosque citing concerns over terrorism and the ability of Muslims to assimilate into the community. Some said Islam was a “death cult” and speculated that the congregation would try to impose Sharia law on Newton County.

Although county officials said the meetings were a platform for citizens to ask questions about the project, no one from the mosque was present and the imam of the the Doraville-based congregation said he was never contacted by the county.

“It’s not that they invited us: You come to this public meeting, you are welcome,” Imam Mohammad Islam told the AJC this week. “I believe that instead of going there, let the situation calm down, we will start talking, hopefully we will come to (common) ground. We are here, we want peace.”

In their letter, the mayors made four requests: Remove the moratorium on places of worship; set up a meeting with the leaders of the proposed mosque; assure the citizens of Newton County that due diligence will be carried out; and fully execute the permitting process in place.

“Remember, if the mosque or any other development can’t meet the requirements, they will not be able to move forward with their plans,” Johnston wrote. “If they do meet the requirements, we need to welcome them.”

The other signatories are Jerry Roseberry, mayor of Oxford; Jefferson Riley, mayor of Mansfield; Gregg Ellwanger, mayor of Newborn; and Arline Chapman, mayor of Porterdale.

A spokesperson for the county said Friday “the Board of Commissioners has taken no further action as of today concerning the moratorium placed on all places of worship.”

County Chairman Keith Ellis could not immediately be reached for comment.

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