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Islamic group asks Justice Department to review Newton County's actions on moratorium
5-week band on places of worship placed after mosque proposed in Covington
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COVINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Justice has been alerted by the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to a moratorium on permits for places of worship by the Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC).

Last week the CAIR sent a letter to the BOC concerning a moratorium agreed to during an Aug. 16 public meeting and a town hall meeting to discuss a proposed mosque Monday night.

The letter, written by Edward Mitchell, executive director of CAIR, said that if the organization did not receive a response by or during the county’s town hall meeting it “will have no choice but to ask the Department of Justice to take action against Newton County for religious discrimination.”

Mitchell told The News Monday that the Department of Justice was contacted late last week. Mitchell also said the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP and other organizations have joined CAIR in support of its position.

“The justice department has agreed to review this situation,” Mitchell said. “They first will review a matter to see if it is worth opening an investigation."

According to Newton County Chair Keith Ellis, the county has already responded to CAIR.

Mitchell, an attorney, sent a letter to Newton County Thursday, Aug. 18 on behalf of the CAIR, the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, and several other Georgia mosques and American Muslim non-profit organizations. The letter cited comments from District 1 Commissioner John Douglas days before the county approved the moratorium during its Aug. 16 meeting.

Mitchell’s letter claimed that “local leaders and citizens expressed opposition to the project based largely on anti-Muslim bigotry.”

He went on to say that local leaders expressed opposition to the mosque because it is a mosque and cited a Facebook post from County Line Baptist Church prior to the Aug. 16 BOC meeting.

“Please, pray for our county regarding the proposed mosque to be built here (right in front of our church!)” the post said. “God is able to thwart the plans of men. The Newton County Board of Commissioners will meet tonight. Pray for that meeting.”

During that meeting, the BOC voted to suspend all permits on all places of worship for five weeks and review staff research on the matter at its Sept. 20 meeting.

In his letter, Mitchell asked the BOC if a group of Protestants had secured a permit to build a new church and Christian cemetery, would the commission have objected to that?

“For the sake of combating extremism, upholding American values and treating all citizens equally, we ask you to voluntarily bring this discrimination to an end at your next public meeting on Aug. 22.” Mitchell said. “You can do so by lifting the moratorium, publicly apologizing to the people of Newton County and collaborating with your American Muslim constituents to ensure that their new house of worship comes to fruition in a way acceptable to all interested parties.”