The proposed construction of a mosque in the middle of Tennessee has produced a sharp exchange of words between candidates for an open congressional seat.

In May, the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission approved the construction of a 52,000-square-foot facility to house a mosque and Islamic center in Murfreesboro. More than 600 residents turned out at a county commission meeting in mid-June to protest the construction plans, ABC’sWorld News reported.

Candidates looking to represent Tennessee’s 6th congressional district, which includes Murfreesboro, were quick to take sides. According to The Tennessean, self-described “tea party Democrat” George Erdel declared that “Islam is a system of government. Islam is a system of justice…. I’m afraid we’ll have a training facility in Rutherford County.”

Republican candidate Lou Ann Zelenik took a similar stand in a press release, saying, “This ‘Islamic Center’ is not part of a religious movement; it is a political movement designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee.” A local television news station reported that Zelenik soon afterward received death threats. Most recently, Zelenik claimed the center has a “radical agenda” and called for an investigation. A board member of the Islamic center has been suspended as a result of Zelenik’s accusations.

Ben Leming, a Marine and Iraq combat veteran who is also running as a Democrat for the 6th district seat, countered Zelenik’s views in statementscovered by the local Daily News Journal and’sPost Politics” blog. “The Americans that want to build this mosque are already our neighbors. They live next to us and they are a part of our community. They are not the enemy,” he said.

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