COVINGTON, Ga. — Citing security concerns, Georgia officials canceled a vote scheduled for Tuesday that would have allowed plans for a new mosque to move forward.
Earlier, Newton County officials had said they planned to vote to lift a ban on building permits for places of worship. The ban was prompted by opposition to a planned mosque and cemetery on 135 acres in the county, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of Atlanta.
But the meeting was called off because of concerns about crowd control and hostile social media posts, authorities said.
“This decision was not taken without careful deliberation and consideration,” the county said in a statement that cited concerns about crowd control and social media postings “evidencing hostilities in the community.”
There was no immediate word on whether Tuesday’s meeting would be rescheduled. Newton County Commission Chairman Keith Ellis did not immediately return an email or phone messages from The Associated Press left at his commission office and at the county clerk’s office.
Governments “cannot allow extremists to bully, harass or scare them into canceling public meetings,” the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said after the meeting was called off.
“We strongly condemn the anti-Muslim extremists who have slandered, harassed and threatened Newton County’s commissioners over the past week,” Georgia chapter Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in the statement.
“These cowardly bigots do not represent the people of Newton County, who are as warm and welcoming as other Georgians,” he added.
Unless another special meeting is scheduled, the commission’s next chance to vote on ending the moratorium for places of worship will be Sept. 20, the Covington News reported (http://bit.ly/2cUhWZ0 ).
The county’s five-week moratorium is set to expire naturally on Sept. 21. CAIR said it expects that will allow the Muslim group to move forward with its plans for the mosque and cemetery.
In August, opponents of the mosque packed a public hearing, with some expressing fears that it would be used to train terrorists. 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.”
Other Georgia communities, such as the Atlanta suburbs of Lilburn and Kennesaw, have also opposed mosques in recent years.
In Florida, authorities are investigating an arson fire that damaged a mosque in Fort Pierce, where Orlando nightclub gunman Omar Mateen had occasionally worshipped. Investigators believe the Florida blaze, which started late Sunday and burned into Monday morning, might have been a hate crime, St. Lucie County sheriff’s spokesman Maj. David Thompson said.
Mateen was killed by police after opening fire at the gay Pulse nightclub June 12 in a rampage that left 49 victims dead and 53 wounded. He professed allegiance to the Islamic State group. His father is among roughly 100 people who attend the mosque.