Perhaps it’s no longer surprising in the current climate, but yet another mosque construction project is coming under increased attack from critics this month. It’s time to add Florence, Kentucky to the list of controversial Islamic construction projects stretching from Temecula, California to Murfreesboro, Tennessee to, of course, lower Manhattan.
It may be that the Cordoba House project in New York has led to increased attention on — and opposition to — the Florence, Kentucky mosque project, which has been in the planning stages since at least 2002. At least one Republican politician has weighed in on both, and the answer is (or, really, is not) surprising: he says one shouldn’t be built, while construction of the other is Constitutionally guaranteed.
Here’s a description of the project in question from the Northern Kentucky Enquirer:
The site is identified as a 5.58-acre parcel at 900 Cayton Road in Florence. It is in the section that runs between Mall Road and Hopeful Church Road, behind Kroger and the former Hollywood Video site.
Sounds tame enough — and picturesque to boot. Who wouldn’t want to worship next to an old Hollywood Video? When the proposed site was announced July 26, the mosque seemed to be unimportant to the residents of Florence, according to the Enquirer.
“We have not heard from anyone opposed to the project,” Boone County Assistant Zoning Administrator Mitch Light told the paper at the time. That was in stark contrast to 2002, when the mosque project in Florence (then proposed for a different site) received “considerable opposition” from locals “citing concerns about increased traffic and a negative impact to property values and to the community in general.”
Less than a month later, however, the new mosque site has become the subject of a new round of anti-Muslim attacks. A website called The Vigilante (“standing firm in a storm of socialist sedition”) attacked the project on August 5, calling on Florentines to “to understand what they are in for” with the the new mosque:
“Once Islam has established itself sufficiently in any nation, it seeks to overthrow any existing regime or constitution or law, and replace it with Islamic theocracy,” the site warns. “All Islamic mosques have Islamic leaders (rulers) who can call Muslims for fighting, and as such are satellite headquarters for spreading Literal Islam’s political doctrine of world domination and totalitarianism—no matter how many ‘moderate Muslims’ they serve.”
This week, the anti-Muslim fear campaign stepped up a notch with an anonymous flier that’s being distributed, warning residents that the Muslims are coming to get them.
“Everyone needs to contact Florence City Council to have this stopped,” the flier reads in part, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Americans need to stop the takeover of our country.”
Even the politicians are weighing in as Florence and Manhattan become sister cities in anti-mosque rhetoric. Rep. Geoff Davis (R) is Florence’s congressional representative. Like many Republicans, he’s opposed to the Cordoba House project in New York. “Plans to construct a mosque near the Ground Zero memorial site, where thousands of Americans lost their lives due to a radical Islamic terrorist group attack, is not only insensitive but provocative,” he told the Enquirer yesterday.
But when it comes to the mosque project in his home district, Davis seems a bit more cautious. “So long as the appropriate state and local rules have been followed, this is permissible under the establishment clause regarding freedom of religion in the First Amendment of the Constitution,” Davis said of the Florence mosque.
A spokesperson for the Florence mosque project did not respond to my requests for comment. Joseph Dabdoub, a spokesman for the project, told the AP, “The flier was very disappointing. These are average, hard-working people from the community, looking for a place to worship.”
This might be a good time to point out that Florence already has an Islamic center, and it’s “just a few blocks from the proposed mosque site,” according to the Enquirer. That building “hosts many activities, including daily prayers, community gatherings and Sunday school,” and it’s also “focused on outreach in an effort to introduce Islam to the local community, which representatives say has increased membership and contributed to the need for a larger facility.”
It seems that those supporting the new mosque will likely get their wish, according to local officials. As in New York, those pesky property rights are getting in the way of project opponents.
“If anyone owned a piece of property in the city of Florence and it is properly zoned — whether it was a business development or residential development — they could do that, and that’s the case with the Islamic center,” Florence Community Development Director Joshua Wise told WLWT-TV.
And at least one Muslim rights advocate blames the furor over the New York project for ginning up local opposition to the Kentucky mosque.
“If it wasn’t for that, and for election season, perhaps a lot of this wouldn’t have happened,” said Karen Dabdoub, the executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Council on American Islamic Relations.