COVINGTON, Ga. -- In a story only on 11Alive, emails obtained through an open records request are giving an inside look at a controversy playing out in Newton County.
A series of emails sent and received between Aug. 1 and Aug. 22 center around controversial plans to build an Islamic mosque and cemetery in the county.
Most of them are to and from Newton County Commissioner John Douglas, who represents the district where the project could be built.
The emails, obtained by 11Alive's Chris Hopper show Douglas had a desire to change the direction of the project, which has become the target of concerned Newton County citizens.
Last month, Douglas proposed a five-week moratorium that put the project on hold. Now, electronic conversations between him and concerned residents show he believes the Islamic group behind the project tried to mislead the public.
On the initial application for permits, the cemetery and mosque was called “Avery Community Church.” But in email, Douglas wrote that he was looking for ways to “impact” the project.
In one email to a local pastor Douglas said, “at this point, it looks like it was done in secret to prevent the citizens and me from being able to impact it while it could be impacted.”
He went on to write, “a show of local residents would be helpful to back up our displeasure and desire to change the direction of this project.”
Newton County gave it the initial approval last year, and it technically doesn’t and shouldn’t matter what it’s called, as all places of worship are basically free to build anywhere in the county.
Several community groups expressed their disapproval with the county’s response shortly after commissioners passed the moratorium. But when presented with a series of articles about religious freedom lawsuits, Douglas responded via email, “we are not fighting religion at all. We are trying to hold back on congestion, maintain our rural way of life and ensure the people who move here can keep the family atmosphere, low crime rate, and quiet neighborhoods they were seeking. Everyone is welcome who believes in those principles.”
At its next meeting on Sep. 13, the Newton County Commission is expected to lift the moratorium, which effectively blocked the project, early.
There is no word yet on how Commissioner Douglas feels about that decision. 11Alive News contacted him for comment, but didn’t Douglas did not respond before the publishing of this story.