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Hundreds gather at Newton County courthouse to discuss mosque
public-hearing-crowd WEB
Two groups of 300 people attended a town hall meeting at the Newton County Historic Courthouse to discussed a proposed mosque Monday night. - photo by Bryan Fazio/FCN regional staff

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COVINGTON -- Around 50 people spoke in front of the Newton County Board of Commissioners and hundreds of their fellow residents during a town hall meeting Monday night to voice their opinions and concerns about a proposed mosque and cemetery in Newton County.

Many people spoke of the problems they felt visitors and attendees of the mosque and cemetery would cause in terms of traffic, waste water and congestion in the area around Georgia Highway 162 and County Line Road, where the mosque is slated to be built.

“My life will be directly affected if this is built,” said Erin, who did not give her last name. “Out on our side of town it’s beautiful and the Georgia country roads are small. It’s quiet. We don’t hear a lot of noise at all. At the end of County Line Road meets 212 and 162, in order for us to have this big Avery Community Church, we would need red lights at both end of County Line Road and a turning lane. I propose the members of the church pay for these things to be done before they move in.”

Multiple residents also spoke of their concern over why the mosque was originally called Avery Community Church in communications with county development employees. When a letter was sent to Newton County Development Services on June 6, 2015 the property was being labeled as being purchased by Avery Community Church. Nine days later it was labeled as being bought by A Maad Al Islami, Inc.

The change in names was something Newton County District 1 Commissioner John Douglas brought up during an Aug. 16 public meeting when he proposed Monday night’s town hall meeting, along with a five-week moratorium on permits for places of worship.

News of a mosque coming to Newton County has stirred up hundreds of comments on social media as well as attention from multiple media outlets such as Atlanta television stations and newspapers and CNN, all of whom were at the Newton County Historic Courthouse Monday.

“I would appreciate it if the media did not demonize this community because of their concern,” Kenneth Morrell said. “There are a few questions I have that I would like to ask: is this mosque actually going to be opened up to the community to attend? Do they allow testimonies in their mosque? Would they be upset if I testify to the goodness of God and the grace of God? That’s church to us.

“Do they consider us to be old country and dumb folks without eyes and ears and brains?”

Morrell also told the crowd that he had a property up for sale, and was set to close on a deal for the property, but it fell through.

“We thought it was a done deal,” Morrell said. “One week ago they got word of this mosque coming into our community and their realtor called our realtor and said the client wanted to back out of the real estate deal because they were unsure of the community when the mosque came in. This mosque already cost me a sale of a house.”

Other citizens spoke of and yelled to express outrage at stories of women being raped and persecuted by Sharia law.

“I don’t have a problem with Muslims, I have a problem with Sharia law,” said Bobby Huggins, a Vietnam veteran. “Are they going to be able to have Sharia law so they can beat their wife? Are they going to make little children to marry? That’s Sharia law. Are they going to practice Sharia law or United States law?”

Sharia law is a set of religious laws derived from the Quran that covers topics such as crime, politics, marriage and more in the Muslim religion.

Along with fears of Sharia punishments, many in the crowd also spoke against actions they have seen among terrorist groups linked to the Muslim religion.

“I don’t want these people and these teachings in our community,” Edmund Hall said. “Were you not watching your television on 9/11/01? Have we lost our minds? Have we lost our common sense here? I pray that almighty God fills your heart with common sense to make the right decision. Y’all represent us. Listen to us. We don’t want this here. We don’t want this here.”

There were some who spoke up during the two town hall sessions, however, in favor of the mosque.

“Sure we should be able to look at security concerns and the water ordinance,” said Kendra Miller, who was raised Christian and is ethnically Jewish. “But I encourage us all to meet one Muslim person. There are a lot of terrible things in the Quran but there are a lot of beautiful things in the Quran. There are a lot of terrible things in the Bible but there are a lot of beautiful things in the Bible.

Zouhir Fakir, a Muslim and eight-year resident of Newton County, told the crowd that not all Muslims are part of the violent groups that have been behind terrorist activities throughout the world.

“I don’t see why people are afraid,” he said. “They don’t see the war we have is against people who happen to be Muslim. But there are Muslim people who have died on the front line for us to have that freedom today. They fight hand-in-hand with American soldiers.

“America, at the end of the day, is not only for white Christians. It is for everybody.”

Prior to Monday night’s meeting a line formed around the courthouse and continued there until the second group of 300 citizens were allowed to enter. During the meeting a group of demonstrators stood on the Square holding an American flag and a flag that read 'COEXIST.'

Around a dozen Newton County Sheriff’s deputies were on hand in the courthouse and were not needed other than to help usher people in and out of the commissioner’s board room where the meeting was held.

Douglas ended the meeting by asking the veterans in attendance to stand up and attributed the crowd’s ability to discuss both sides of the conversation to their sacrifice.

“That’s why we did it,” said Douglas, a veteran. “That’s why if we had to do it again, most of us would. Because you can get up here and say ‘we love it’ or get up here and say, ‘no, we hate it.'”