A storefront, where members representing the Suffa Dawat Center applied to open a mosque, is photographed on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014, in Kennesaw Ga.
Photo by Kevin Liles/AP

Conservative Georgia city reverses course on mosque

A conservative suburb of Atlanta has reversed a decision that will now pave the way for a mosque to fill a space at a shopping center. In a closed-door meeting Wednesday night, the Kennesaw City Council abruptly changed course after initially voting to deny a permit to the Suffa Dawat Center. Mayor Mark Mathews announced the decision after members of the City Council came to him privately in his office saying they changed their mind.

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Kennesaw, a city of about 30,000 that is 30 miles northwest of metro Atlanta, came under national scrutiny last Monday when the City Council voted 4-1 against the mosque’s permit. Ahead of the vote, activists protested outside City Hall waving American flags and holding signs reading “Ban Islam!” and “Islam Wants No Peace!” Public comment on the matter was limited to areas outside of religion; those opposed to the building instead complained about the hours the mosque would be open and the number of parking spaces.

After the initial vote, a lawyer for the Islamic center vowed to sue, citing the First Amendment and noting similar permits had been approved for Christian organizations. It’s not clear why members of the City Council upended their decision last night, but a statement from the mayor’s office did say their reversal was made “after further consideration and legal review.” Mayor Mathews tells msnbc that the four members did not elaborate on why they specifically requested to change their vote.  

“My hopes are that Kennesaw will continue to be viewed as a family-friendly city that is also a great place to live, work, learn, play, and worship,” Mathews said.

The Suffa Dawat Center had applied for a permit to open a mosque in Kennesaw Commons, a 20-unit shopping center off a major roadway. The space would be used for three daily prayers and a weekly prayer service on Friday afternoons, according to the permit application. The Islamic group had agreed to limit attendance at the 2,200-square feet space to 80 worshippers at a time. It also promised to take up just 40 parking spaces and would sign a two-year lease.   

The City Council will need to approve the change again at its next public meeting on Monday.