ATLANTA (AP) — A ban on building permits for religious institutions that was prompted by opposition to a mosque will soon be lifted, officials in a Georgia county said Wednesday.
Newton County officials said the project needs other approvals before construction can start but pledged to work with mosque members. A majority of the county's commissioners said they plan to vote Sept. 13 to lift the ban and approve zoning changes that won't affect the mosque and Muslim cemetery.
"Newton County is rich in diversity and hospitality, and we are happy to see residents of all faiths and backgrounds live and worship together in our community," Commissioner Nancy Schulz said in a joint statement with Muslim leaders.
Opposition to the project mounted this month as residents learned members of a mosque in Doraville, a northwest Atlanta suburb, planned to build a mosque and cemetery on 135 acres it purchased in rural Newton County about 40 miles southeast of Atlanta.
One commissioner told The Rockdale Citizen newspaper that he wondered whether the project would make Newton County "a prime area for the federal government to resettle refugees from the Middle East." Two public meetings were held, both crowded with angry opponents who cheered when people expressed fears about global terrorism.
The moratorium prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the NAACP to request a federal civil rights investigation in Newton County. CAIR Georgia's executive director Edward Mitchell on Wednesday thanked county officials for committing to lifting the ban.
"Although Newton Muslims will once again have the right to proceed with building a cemetery and house of worship, they plan to first spend more time building bridges with their neighbors," he said.
Mohammed Islam, religious leader of the Doraville mosque proposing the project, said he plans to visit local Sunday church services during the next month. Islam has said mosque members didn't intend to take any legal action against the county.
He said they wanted a place where they can uphold Muslim funeral rituals but not clash with neighbors.
"We believe that building bridges with our neighbors is far more important than immediately building a new house of worship and cemetery," Islam said in the statement.