On Tuesday, Aug. 9, the Henrico County Board of Supervisors voted to rezone a piece of land on Impala Drive to permit the construction of a mosque. In 2008, the board rejected a similar proposal.
The decision was a controversial one. Supporters urged the board to “do the American thing” and permit the mosque. Neighbors said their objections had nothing to do with religion, but instead concerned noise and traffic on an already dangerous road.
At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, the applicants’ attorney, John Mizell, reminded those present that a higher authority had a say in the matter. The federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 states that local governments’ land use policies shall not place an undue burden on the exercise of religion. So, Mizell said, if the county denied the permit it would, “without a doubt, substantially burden their religious exercise.”
End of story? Not quite. If you weren’t lucky enough to catch more than two hours of speeches about the project, here’s the rundown.
Speakers in support of the mosque: 18
Number of times Henrico County Administrator Virgil Hazelett interrupted a speaker, saying, “We are not here to hear criticism of any religion.”: 1
Number of speakers who, after Hazelett’s admonition, still managed to mention sharia law and how Islam is really a culture, not a religion: 1 (see above)
Lengthy stories about how Lakeside is a great place to live, with parades, “strange dogs” and “a fabulous selection of beers”: 1
Speakers who said they like the wooded property the way it is: 1
Number of years the property in question has been vacant: 27 Number of people Mizell said would be using the mosque on Friday afternoons, its busiest day: 100
Number of Muslims living north of the James River, according to Mizell: 4,000
Board members who carefully expressed disapproval of the project before making a motion to approve it: 1 (Richard W. “Dickie” Glover)
Hours most Muslims present had abstained from food and water by 10 p.m. Tuesday, because of prescribed fasting during the holy month of Ramadan: 17