What a difference a couple of weeks have made here in Newton County.
On Aug. 15, the Board of Commissioners (BOC) imposed a moratorium on the permitting of houses of worship in response to news that a Doraville organization had bought land to build a mosque and burial site. This despite the fact that the land sale was legal, and the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of religion, specifying that no impediments may be placed on the free expression of faith.
Two raucous public hearings ensued on Aug. 22 where people on both sides of the issue were heard. Newton County made state, national and international headlines. Social media posts were contentious.
The next day, a group of local clergy and interested citizens accepted the invitation from the Imam of the Muslim Community planning to locate in Newton County to visit him in Doraville. Local attendees received lunch a warm welcome and talked easily with young members of the community about their joy in living and studying in the United States. Several posted heart-warming accounts of the meeting. The social media tide started to turn.
Last week, the mayors of our five municipalities sent a powerful letter urging the BOC to lift the moratorium. “The nation is watching Newton County …,” they said, “and we are being embarrassed by our County leaders.”
County leaders met Monday with the Imam and representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. A joint statement was issued to announce the intention by the BOC to life the moratorium at a Sept. 13 meeting. Commissioners Nancy Schulz and Lanier Sims issued strong statements of support.
Thursday, Oxford College Chaplain Lyn Pace proposed a lunch next Wednesday with the Imam to be hosted at Oxford College by local clergy and citizens who previously met the Imam in Doraville. Several pastors last Sunday delivered powerful sermons on the need for tolerance and understanding.
The sea change that we have seen over two weeks is not the result of a court order or outside pressure, but is due to the courage and conviction of men and women in our community. People of faith, local mayors, Commissioners Schulz and Sims, and ordinary citizens were motivated by their faith, their love of community, their understanding of what America stands for and their belief in the value of all humanity. Their conscience compelled them simply to stand up and do the right thing. What a novel idea. They are to be commended and thanked.