MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The Rutherford County Sheriff's Office had extra officers on hand Thursday night at a meeting of the county's commissioners.
Residents who support a new Islamic center in Murfreesboro gathered at the meeting to speak in response to a protest earlier this summer against the religious facility, slated to be built off Veals Road and Bradyville Pike.
The Islamic center was not even on the agenda, but still, commissioners listened to public comments for half an hour.
Supporters of the Islamic center rallied in favor of first amendment rights, while critics said the planned mosque is a threat to the community's safety.
Jim Carter with the Tennessee Minutemen said, "These people can dogmatically stand in front of you and say they are peaceful loving people, and then tonight they come in your home and blow your home up."
It wasn't the first time people on both sides of the Islamic center issue voiced their opinions to county commissioners, but Thursday night, there was a larger police presence.
Law enforcement officers surrounded the Rutherford County courthouse on horseback and on rooftops.
Supporter Leslie Angel said, "It would be nice if we could have a dialogue without being at gunpoint. That would be nice."
The new mosque, which will replace the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro's current facility in downtown, has faced much opposition from residents in recent months.
While some in the community say they oppose the center because it would create traffic problems, others have implied that the mosque could be a haven for terrorists.
Last month, someone set fire to construction equipment parked at the construction site and the sign marking the future site was vandalized twice this year, once in January and once in June.
The mosque has also received harassing phone calls and emails.
When asked about the arson investigation Thursday, Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold said the FBI and the ATF continue to investigate but said there is nothing "new to report."
The sheriff vowed to do what it takes to keep his citizens safe, regardless of their religion.
"If there is a crime that's committed out there, we will be right back out there doing what we have to do," he said in reference to the mosque location.
"I understand everyone has their opinion, there like thumbprints, everyone's got one, but you have to be peaceful about it," Arnold said. "That's one thing that makes us the society that we are… We can oppose each other verbally and non-violently."
A $20,000 reward is being offered for information about the mosque site arson that leads to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has operated in a smaller facility in downtown Murfreesboro for the last 30 years without any problem.