On December 1, the Kennesaw, Georgia City Council voted 4 to 1 to deny a land use application by Suffa Dawat Center (the “Center”) to establish an Islamic place of worship and education center in a retail shopping plaza. Kennesaw, population 29,783, is a suburb of Atlanta. Family Circle magazine selected it as one of the country’s "10 Best Towns For Families" in 2007. If the name sounds familiar, it may be because Kennesaw gained notoriety in 1982 as a champion of the Second Amendment when the City unanimously passed a law requiring “every head of household to maintain a firearm together with ammunition.” (See Kennesaw’s History) Now they have a First Amendment and possibly a RLUIPA issue.
The property at issue is zoned Highway General Commercial (“HGC”) where places of worship are allowed via special exception permit. In line with the recommendation of the City Planning and Zoning Administrator, the City Planning Commission voted in November to recommend approval of the application for 24 months, with the stipulation that the Center address several minor lighting and parking issues prior to issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy.
Minutes from the City Council meeting are not yet publically available and the reasons for the denial are not confirmed. However, Mayor Mark Mathews has publically stated that the City has never approved such a use in retail space. One local news source, however, observes that the City had voted, in June 2013 and July 2014, to approve the use of a 4,000 square-foot retail space by Redeemed Christian Fellowship Church. The Mayor later rebutted the comparison by explaining that the proposed mosque would create more conflicts with retail uses because of daily prayers and Friday service, a problem not presented by the approved Christian church.
According to local reports, the City Council meeting was observed by numerous anti-Islamic protesters. One protester expressed her view to the Marietta Daily Journal:
“I wanted to exercise my First Amendment rights while I still can, and I wanted to protect the Christian community that I live in against infiltration by the enemy who has gone on record with the goal to destroy everything we stand for….”
In response to the City Council denial, the Center’s attorney, Doug Dillard, stated: “We think it’s discriminatory, and it violates equal terms…. They had no reason to deny this.” It’s also reported that Attorney Dillard will advise his clients to file a lawsuit, perhaps invoking the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
The December 1 City Council agenda, including the Center’s application material is available here.