In a blow to religious freedom significantly more serious than the “War on Christmas,” the Kennesaw City Council voted 4-1 yesterday to reject a zoning application to construct a mosque in a local shopping center. While Kennesaw’s mayor claims the issue is simply that city zoning has never allowed religious buildings in retail establishments, the Marietta Daily Journal points out that the City Council voted unanimously to allow a storefront Pentecostal church in July. The mosque applicants had agreed to all limitations imposed by the city attorney – a two-year lease, only allowing 80 worshipers, and using fewer than 40 parking places – but that wasn’t enough to get council approval.
Those wondering whatever could be the difference-maker between the church application and mosque application might want to look to the anti-Islamic protestors outside Monday’s meeting. Without a hint of irony, one protestor explained that she “wanted to exercise [her] First Amendment rights while [she] still can,” protecting her community from “infiltration by the enemy who has gone on record with the goal to destroy everything we stand for.” Another described his protest against allowing Kennesaw Muslims to open a place of worship as “turning the other cheek.”
The Islamic group is represented by land-use attorney Doug Dillard, who told the AJC that “I’m advising my clients not to take this lying down.” Dillard has experience with fighting – and winning – a Georgia zoning fight over a mosque. When the city of Lilburn twice rejected rezoning permits for an Islamic Center’s move, Dillard represented their local Islamic group in filing a federal lawsuit alleging constitutional violations. The Department of Justice got involved, filing their own lawsuit against the city alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits municipal zoning regulations that significantly burden religious exercise rights. Facing up against the DOJ, Lilburn settled the case and approved the mosque in 2011. Keeping this recent history in mind, it seems that Kennesaw might want to start brushing up on the RLUIPA.