Muslims say they're looking for a place to bury their dead. Locals say it's a plot to gain a foothold in their small rural Texas town.
A proposal to bring a Muslim cemetery to Farmersville has stoked fears among residents who are vehemently trying to convince community leaders to block the project. The sentiment reflects an anti-Muslim distrust that has been brewing over the last year in parts of Texas, most notably 25 miles away in Garland — the scene of a deadly May shooting outside a cartoon contest lampooning the Prophet Muhammad.
"The concern for us is the radical element of Islam," David J. Meeks, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, told The Dallas Morning News. He said he thinks the cemetery would be the first step toward a broader Muslim expansion in town.
"How can we stop a mosque or madrassa training center from going in there?" he asked, referring to a type of Islamic school.
Change "mosque" to "church" or "synagogue" and ask that again, buddy. Then read the Constitution.
The issue is flaring up as Farmersville leaders consider a 35-acre development request from the Islamic Association of Collin County, which faces a shortage of space to bury members of its faith. Although the area already has a Buddhist center and Mormon church, residents showed up in force at a recent town meeting to oppose allowing a Muslim cemetery, which would include an open-air pavilion and small retail component that would run along a busy highway through town.
As ridiculous as this is, the town's mayor can smell the impending lawsuit coming a mile away, and is scrambling to talk the Baptist bigots down.
"There's just a basic concern or distrust about the cemetery coming into town," said Mayor Joe Helmberger, who calls the townspeople's worries unwarranted.
He said the cemetery would be approved as long as the town's development standards are met, pointing out that the U.S. was founded on religious freedom and that the association is simply trying to secure a burial site.
Farmersville better hope this passes, or the town government will probably get sued out of existence, and they know it.