By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - A suburban Atlanta city has rejected a request by Muslim residents to put a prayer center in a local shopping center, setting up a potential lawsuit over what the group says is a violation of religious freedom.
The City Council in Kennesaw, Georgia, denied an application for the mosque on Monday night in a 4-1 vote because zoning regulations do not allow places of worship in that particular shopping center, city spokeswoman Pam Davis said on Tuesday.
“It's a land use issue,” she said.
Douglas Dillard, an attorney for the Muslim residents, told the Marietta Daily Journal that the rejected application was an attack on the group's First Amendment rights.
Dillard, who could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, told the newspaper the residents might file a lawsuit challenging the council's decision.
“We think it’s discriminatory, and it violates equal terms,” Dillard said. “They had no reason to deny this.”
Nayyer Islam, a spokesman for the Muslim residents, also did not immediately return phone calls.
Before the vote, about 10 protesters outside City Hall waved American flags and held signs that read: “No mosque,” the paper reported.
The city spokeswoman acknowledged a Christian church had been allowed to operate within another shopping center in Kennesaw, a city of 30,000 residents about 30 miles northwest of Atlanta.
But that location had “completely different zoning” than the one where the Muslim residents are seeking to establish a prayer center, Davis said.
Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews declined to comment on Tuesday, citing the possible litigation.
Such disputes are common in the United States, said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington.
“It’s been our experience that any time a Muslim community anywhere seeks to expand or establish a mosque or some other kind of institution, there will be some type of opposition,” Hooper said. “When you scratch the surface, often there is a tremendous level of bigotry and stereotyping in the opposition.”
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)