A plan by a religious group to build a school, a residential area, cemetery, and a worship facility on 135 acres in Newton County has drawn criticism from elected officials, according to a story in the Newton Citizen. Despite the fact that the property in question was purchased a year ago, county leadership appeared to be ignorant of the plans until they were revealed in a story in the Citizen last Wednesday.
[District 1 Commissioner John] Douglas said his biggest concern was the fact that commissioners had not been notified in advance that a potentially controversial project was planned.
“I had no idea at all that this was in the works,” Douglas said. “I talked to (County Attorney) Megan Martin this morning and she says that — as I understand it — churches may be exempt from having to be approved by us for zoning.”
County Commission Chairman Keith Ellis was also surprised that the current zoning code allows for churches and cemeteries in all of the county’s zoning districts.
But why such controversy over a religious use of the property? Perhaps because the owner is Al Maad Al Islami Inc., which owns a mosque and school in Doraville. Commissioner Douglas, who has made controversial remarks about minorities in the past, appeared to worry about what the future of the property would bring:
“The first question that comes to my mind is if there are enough Muslims in south Newton County that we need to build not only a mosque but a community, a school and what all is in the plan,” said Douglas, “would building those things make us a prime area for the federal government to resettle refugees from the Middle East? So I do have some concerns, like the people who live down there.”
What Commissioner Douglas may not realize is that refugees, after being vetted by the federal government, are placed by the state with sponsors, who agree to help them get settled in Georgia. The federal government is not going to look at the new development and spy a location where refugees could be placed en masse.
Over the last few years, there has been a push at the Gold Dome for a bill protecting religious freedom by those who are concerned that the rights of people to practice their religion without interference could be taken away. It seems like this might be a prime example of why such a law is needed. But, 🐸☕️.