Port St. Lucie, FL
Founded in late 2016, the Treasure Coast Islamic Society (TCIS) sought to purchase a building in the city of Port St. Lucie, FL to serve as a house of worship and a weekend Islamic school for local Muslim residents. It would have been the first mosque within the city limits. The Muslim community made an offer on a storefront building occupied by the Church on the Rock that had recently come up for sale. Although the offer was unsuccessful and the building soon came under contract by another Christian community, local opposition to the TCIS’s plan for a new masjid in Port St. Lucie had already been mobilized on social media between February and April in response to a GoFundMe campaign TCIS had created to raise funds to purchase the church property. Public opposition came to a head at a city commission meeting in late April.
In anticipation of protests, city officials had increased the police presence at the meeting on April 24, 2017. Opponents speaking out before the city commission against a potential mosque expressed concerns about the anticipated level of noise from daily calls to prayer and expressed fear that the mosque would become a security threat. Some supporters of the local Muslim community attended the meeting but sharply anti-Muslim points of view dominated the public comment section. A local newspaper reported that few who spoke at the city commission meeting were residents of Port St. Lucie but had arrived from outside the city (Rodriguez 2017). Opponents’ statements raised suspicion of Muslims describing Islam as incompatible with and dangerous to America with statements such as, “We don’t need to hear five times a day their prayer. Their culture. You don’t do it here. We are American” (quoted in McRoberts 2017); “I think it’s a bad idea. I don’t think it should happen. We are a Christian nation, we always have been and that should be respected” (quoted in Buczyner 2017); and “Fifteen to 20 percent of their population seeks to destroy and kill you and me” (quoted in Rodriguez 2017). To raise the specter of extremist violence, speakers made reference to Omar Mateen who had attended the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce twenty miles north of Port St. Lucie. Mateen had committed the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando the year before on June 12.
City officials responded to the concerns expressed at the meeting by pointing out that the city had not received any official permitting request for a local mosque but that any such request would be treated in accordance with local zoning regulations that pertained to all houses of worship regardless of the specifics of an applicant’s religion. In the case of an application to operate a house of worship out of a vacant storefront with fewer than 3,000 square feet of space--as would have been the case with the building of the former Church on the Rock-- no approval would be required. In his remarks at the city commission meeting, Mayor Greg Oravec went beyond clarifying the city’s permitting process to remind opponents that constitutional rights are afforded to all citizens saying, “We don’t get to pick and choose which freedoms are afforded to our citizens, or to pick and choose among our citizens. We fight for them all” (quoted in McRoberts 2017).
Public response to the city council meeting criticized the anti-Muslim statements made by opponents but generally lauded the city’s response to the controversy. A spokesperson for the Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-FL) rejected opponents’ religious intolerance as a threat to the wider community (Rodriguez 2017), whereas the editorial board of The Stewart News gave the mayor a “thumbs-up” for his handling of the controversy and praised his public remarks that the rights and freedoms protected in the U.S. Constitution also applied to Muslim Americans (Thumbs up 2017). The members of the TCIS responded to the controversy with the commitment to continue their search for a suitable place for their community to meet and practice their religion (Byczyner 2017). Current data on mosques and Islamic centers in the area of St. Lucie County, however, suggests that the community has not yet realized its plan.
The opposition to the plans of the Treasure Coast Islamic Society to open a mosque in Port St. Lucie occurred, as mentioned above, in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in neighboring Orlando. The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, which the shooter had attended, had been subject to threats and intimidation campaigns in 2016 (Broad 2016, June 17; Elliott 2016, June 27). An attack on an individual community member in front of the Islamic center was reported in July 2016 (Tishchenko 2016, July 3). The campaign against the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce culminated in an arson attack on September 12, 2016. The fire destroyed parts of the historic building that housed the Islamic center, formerly known as Dutton Memorial Church, and caused the community to relocate to a new property in Fort Pierce the following year. Anti-Muslim mobilization, however, was not a new phenomenon. The events in 2016 and 2017 had been preceded by other cases of opposition to Muslim building projects in St. Lucie County. Prior cases included local opposition to a proposed mosque in 2008 [FL_03] and a Muslim cemetery in 2013 [FL_05], both in White City.
- Buczyner, Michael. (2017, April 25). Religion rift in Port St. Lucie as Muslim group plans to build mosque. CBS-12 News. Retrieved from https://cbs12.com/news/local/religion-rift-in-port-st-lucie-as-muslim-group-plans-
- McRoberts, Meghan. (2017, April 25). Rumored mosque in Port St. Lucie sparks controversy: City leaders say no plan to build mosque. NBC-5 WPTV. Retrieved from https://www.wptv.com/news/region-st-lucie-
- Rodriguez, Nicole. (2017, April 26). Shaping our future - Church won’t be purchased by Muslim group. St. Lucie News Tribune. Available from NewsBank: Access World News – Historical and Current: https://infoweb-newsbank-com.
- Rodriguez, Nicole. (2017, April 25). Potential mosque sparks debate - Concern voiced at PSL council meeting. St. Lucie News Tribune (Fort Pierce, FL). Available from NewsBank: Access World News – Historical and Current: https://infoweb-newsbank-com.
- Rodriquez, Nicole. (2017, April 25). Port St. Lucie church won't be purchased by Muslim group for mosque. TCPalm. Retrieved from https://www.tcpalm.com/story/news/local/shaping-our-future/property-values/2017/04/
- Thumbs up - Port St. Lucie mayor gets it right on mosque. (2017, April 29). The Stuart News. Available from NewsBank: Access World News – Historical and Current: https://infoweb-newsbank-com.
- Westbury, Anthony. (2017, Apr 28). In mosque protest, we really showed our ugly side again. TCPalm. Retrieved from https://www.tcpalm.com/story/opinion/columnists/anthony-westbury/2017/04/28/anthony-