jefferson longshotWritten by Don Byrd

[UPDATE 9/5: Good news: Newton County officials have pledged to lift the moratorium on new houses of worship and allow a proposed mosque and Muslim cemetery project to proceed.]

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on some troubling developments in Newton County. In fact, I had to read twice to make sure I caught this sentence correctly: “The uproar has prompted the county to issue a temporary moratorium on new places of worship.” (my emphasis)

A moratorium on new places of worship? In America? Can they do that, even temporarily?

The story behind the “uproar” is sadly a familiar one: the proposal for a new mosque has met vocal opposition from those who don’t apparently accept the idea that religious liberty means religious liberty for all. Prohibiting a house of worship because of the faith of its congregants is discrimination, plain and simple. Putting a halt to all new houses of worship, presumably to avoid such blatant discrimination is… well something else altogether.

In Newton County, when hundreds of residents turned out to a county commission hearing, most protestors apparently did not attempt to disguise the reason for their opposition.

Here is an excerpt from the AJC story:

The majority of speakers came out against the mosque, citing concerns over terrorism and assimilation of Muslims into the community. Some expressed fear that the mosque would become an al-Qaida training camp or impose Sharia law on the community.

“To say we wish to disallow this project based on religious discrimination … is ludicrous and hypocritical,” said a woman who did not give her name. “They are discriminating against us by calling us infidels who do not believe in their religion.”

The idea that a government agency might put a halt to permits for all houses of worship is chilling. That they would take such a step clearly to avoid having to allow an Islamic place of worship is even more concerning. Residents have every right to voice their opinion on matters before local government. But the job of government officials is to protect the rights of all they represent.

Religious liberty for all must mean exactly that.