Carroll delegate to submit legislation targeting mosques with links to extremism

Carroll delegate to submit legislation targeting mosques with links to extremism
Carrol and Frederick County delegate David E. Vogt III speaks in support of an open carry gun law at a rally in Lawyers Mall in Annapolis. (By Joshua McKerrow / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A Carroll County delegate is pushing for legislation that calls for disqualifying some mosques in the state from receiving the tax exemptions granted to religious organizations.

Del. David Vogt, R-District 4, said earlier this week that he plans to submit legislation, titled the Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, that calls for retractions and revocations of the tax-exempt status of any mosque or organization that is determined to have links to terrorism, either directly or indirectly. As of 5 p.m. Friday, the legislation had not been submitted, according to the Maryland General Assembly's online bill tracker.


Under state law, properties used exclusively for worship, for a parsonage or for educational purposes can qualify for a religious tax exemption.

"Terrorism is one of those areas we cannot be reactive in," Vogt said. "We have to be proactive."

The impetus for the bill, which Vogt said will have about 20 co-sponsors, was the threat of homegrown terrorism, he said.

"It really was an idea that was born after we saw the San Bernardino attacks," Vogt said.

Learning about President Barack Obama's plans to visit the Islamic Society of Baltimore this week furthered his concern, he said.

Vogt, a former Marine who served in Afghanistan, is running for Congress in Maryland's Sixth District. He criticized the president's decision to visit the site, which was led for years by an imam who was quoted in The Washington Post in 2004 as saying that a suicide bombing can be seen as acceptable in very rare instances.

Carroll County recorded $314 million in religious tax exempt assessments in Fiscal Year 2014, while Frederick County, which Vogt also represents, recorded $412 million. Those figures include exemptions made for groups of any religion.

Mohamed Esa, president of the Islamic Society of Carroll County and a professor at McDaniel College, worries that the bill would set unrealistic expectations for mosques around the state.

While a board member or imam found to be involved in any kind of illegal activity would be ousted from the society immediately, it is difficult to monitor the outside activities of people who take a less visible role in the mosque, he said.

"If there are members who come in to pray, you don't check their IDs," Esa said.

Moreover, he added, many mosques welcome nonmembers to pray there as well, giving leadership very little opportunity to screen visitors.

The Islamic Society of Carroll County does not receive the property tax exemption at its Littlestown Pike site because of a clerical oversight, Esa said, but it plans to file for the exemption this year, and Vogt's bill makes him uneasy.

"It is punishing an entire organization for the deeds of one person," Esa said, adding that he would never allow any talk of terror of threats in ISCC.

If need be, Esa said he would travel to Annapolis to testify against the bill.


Since announcing the legislation, Vogt said he has received questions about the constitutionality of the bill, but he said he is confident it is in line with U.S. law.

"While there's going to be some extremists that don't support it, it's common sense," Vogt said.

The Bill of Rights allows for freedom of speech and of religion, but "it does not provide freedom to support terrorism," he said.

Vogt's bill, which he said would also be applicable to other, non-Muslim religious institutions, would address concerns he has heard from many of his constituents, he said.

The federal government holds a lot of the control in confronting and preventing terrorism, his bill tackles the issue at the state level, he said.

"This is one area that we can address," he said.