By Jill King Greenwood
The Rev. Keith Tucci preaches from a pulpit more than an hour from Carnegie, but heâ€™s concerned about a different religious communityâ€™s plans to relocate there. Tucci, pastor of the Living Hope Church in Latrobe, said he has â€œserious concernsâ€ about members of a Muslim mosque who want to move to a former Presbyterian church in the heart of Carnegieâ€™s business district. Tucci said he and members of his congregation will travel to Carnegie on Monday to pass out â€œinformational packetsâ€ about the Muslim faith.
â€œI have questions: Who are these people? Are they American citizens? Has anyone done a background check on them?â€ said Tucci, whose church is part of a national network of Bible-based churches with headquarters in Reserve, La., according to its website. â€œIâ€™m not saying all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims. We need more information about these people before they are allowed to move in and ruin a community.â€
Carnegie Councilman Rick Dâ€™Loss, president of the boroughâ€™s synagogue, Congregation Ahavath Achim, said some residents asked questions about the plan for the building but generally expressed support.
â€œIn a town of 8,000 people, of course youâ€™ll have some dissenting opinions, but Carnegie is a very inclusive place,â€ Dâ€™Loss said. â€œMuslims have rights just like anyone else, and they can pray as they choose. Itâ€™s a shame that we have to keep telling people that. I find it funny that a group is going to drive all the way from Westmoreland to tell us we shouldnâ€™t allow the Muslims to be in our community.
â€œIf we say no Muslims, then we have to say no Jews, too. Then what?â€
The borough council on June 14 approved the Attawheed Islamic Centerâ€™s request to convert the 19,000-square-foot stone and brick building along East Main Street into a place for prayer and religious education. No residents expressed opposition at a public hearing about the mosque or during the council meeting that followed. The Muslim group rents space on Banksville Road.
Even with council approval, itâ€™s unclear when the group would move into the building, which needs extensive repairs, including a roof. Al-Walid Mohsen, vice president and manager of the Attawheed Islamic Center, did not return calls for comment.
Police Chief Jeff Harbin, who is the part-time borough manager, said the Living Hope Church group has a right to come to Carnegie and pass out information and talk about concerns, as long as they do so peacefully.
â€œI grew up in Carnegie, and we tend to welcome everyone,â€ Harbin said. â€œWe believe in the right of people to express their opinions, and we respect the First Amendment. People are free to disagree.â€