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Proposed Keene mosque faces permit issues

Union Leader Correspondent

November 13. 2017 9:51PM

Will Coley says plans to open a Route 101 house as a mosque is facing city permitting problems. (Meghan Pierce/Union Leader Correspondent)

KEENE — The man who plans to open a mosque on Route 101 in Keene says he will fight the city on the grounds of freedom of religion if they attempt to stop the opening with what he sees as arbitrary city zoning and permitting regulations.

Will Coley, the future mosque’s imam and caretaker, says his Masjid al Latiff and Interfaith Community Center, or MALIC Center, was to open on Saturday, but he ran into a city permitting hitch last week.

“It could ostensibly delay the opening of our center by up to two months, six weeks,” Coley said Monday. “And I’m now arguing that it is causing an undue hardship to our community.”

Coley said Monday none of the work being done to the home requires a building permit, since they are all cosmetic. However, he was told last week when he applied for a sign permit that he would be required to apply for a building permit to change the use of the building. This would require a public hearing process that Coley would like to avoid since white supremacist Chris Cantwell of Keene, who is in jail currently for his role in this summer’s Charlottesville, Va., riots, has mentioned the mosque opening in his podcast.

“We kind of paid attention to the proceedings and he’s still doing his podcast from jail somehow and I heard him on Saturday mention that we were here,” Coley said. “We’re at least on his radar.”

Coley said his mosque already has 20 families as members and it is his duty to protect them.

A public hearing process may draw out Cantwell emissaries to oppose the center, he said.

“I have twenty families, they are my responsibility, to protect them and not expose them to undue harm,” Coley said. “We were ready to go and now it may be two months, maybe longer and there may be an insane circus.”

Coley said before he even took the leap and moved from Tennessee to New Hampshire to open the mosque he did his research, contacting Keene city officials and New Hampshire state officials to ensure he understood the process and what was required.

Coley said he was told over the phone by Keene city officials that the house was zoned commercial so he could use it for the prayer center he was planning.

Coley plans to open the MALIC Center for Muslim worship every day for prayer, five times a day, and for the longer Friday worship service.

Originally from Tennessee, Coley also is known as “the Redneck Muslim.” He converted to Islam 10 years ago.

The Keene-based Shire Free Church is donating the house to Coley.

Previously, the church had rented the home at a discounted rate to a low-income family which was recently evicted for lease violations. Coley said he is not associated with the Shire Free Church in Keene, which is associated with the Free Keene movement. However, he believes city officials are prejudiced against him since the church is gifting the house to him to open the center.

Coley said he submitted a copy of a 2000 federal law to the city zoning office Monday morning which prevents city and state regulators from placing over burdensome regulations on religious groups in opening places of worship.

On Monday afternoon, the Keene zoning office referred questions about Coley’s case to W. Rhett Lamb, Assistant City Manager and Planning Director. Lamb was not available for comment Monday afternoon.

Coley said a repair issue to the home is also delaying the opening, but that repair should be made within two weeks.

At that point he plans to open the center to its members for prayer.

Religion Keene Local and County Government

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