Elected leaders in one Mississippi city squashed plans for what would have been the area’s first mosque, raising questions about bias and religious freedom.
The city’s planning commission had previously voted “no” on proposals for the site of a new mosque in Horn Lake, nestled just 20 minutes south of Memphis. On Tuesday, the Horn Lake board of aldermen upheld that decision, citing potential fire hazards, increased traffic and concerns over possible noise ordinance violations, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.
Ray Elk, the man behind the proposed Abraham House of God, disagreed with the board’s decision, however, and suggested anti-Muslim bias was to blame.
“I’ve been a resident of DeSoto County for over 20 years,” Elk told the newspaper. “I raised all my six children in DeSoto County, they all go to school there and they have a right to go to their mosque and pray and practice their faith like every Christian.”
Under Elk’s plan, the 10,000 square-foot house of worship would occupy a vacant lot along a stretch of road that’s home to at least three churches, according to WREG.
The mosque itself would sit on about three acres of the 80-acre plot with room to accommodate around 156 worshipers, The DeSoto Times-Tribune reported. A 44-space parking lot is also included in the design plan, according to the newspaper.
City Alderman John Jones said there were several reasons for why the board denied Elk’s proposal, including concerns over external loud speakers that would put out a daily call for worshipers to pray.
“The noise is going to be created and there is going to be traffic and the water pressure and the pipe size can’t give the people adequate pressure to keep people safe,” Jones told WHBQ.
The loud speakers, which were also a concern voiced by residents at Tuesday’s meeting, aren’t a feature of the building’s design, however. Still, Jones and fellow alderman shot down Elk’s request.
“They said they are not going to do that, but there are lawsuits all over the U.S. where they have built them and they continue to do the noise,” Jones said, according to WHBQ.
Elk blasted the board’s rejection as “racist” and is threatening to take the city to court, The DeSoto Times-Tribune reported.
“This is what this country was built on, freedom of religion,” he told the Commercial Appeal. “I am just practicing my right. This is my right to have any faith I want.”