Zak Mohyuddin says he's a proud American who is about to celebrate 40 years in Tennessee.
In his first run for public office, he thought the race for District 15 Coffee County commissioner was going well, until he learned his opponent, incumbent Mark Kelly, was circulating a letter that Mohyuddin says attacks his patriotism.
In the letter, Kelly highlights his own religious and constitutional beliefs as a Christian, but what he says about Mohyuddin, who is Muslim, is causing controversy.
"This is a cut-and-dry example of how some people stir up fears of religious differences for personal gain," Mohyuddin said.
Kelly says he sent the letter to conservative voters in District 15. In it, he says Mohyuddin has publicly expressed beliefs that the "United States is not a Christian nation; that the American flag should be removed from public buildings because it is a symbol of tyranny and oppression; that public prayer should be banned because it insults non-Christians; and that the Bible should be removed from public places."
"I find those statements to be vile, offensive and total lies, and I don't use the word 'lie' casually," Mohyuddin said. "I've never used those statements or anything similar in public or in private ever," he added.
Kelly, who has been the District 15 county commissioner for the last 10 years, says, "It wasn't meant to be offensive in any way."
"That's a very serious allegation," Mohyuddin said. "He is attacking my patriotism and loyalty, particularly because I have a high-level security clearance and that is predicated on total absolute loyalty to the U.S."
"All I'm trying to do is make sure there is an understanding that we have two people with two different sets of views and I don't know where the voters stand on it," Kelly added.
As voters cast their ballots early, some aren't standing with Kelly's letter.
"I voted for Mark Kelly," John Yarbrough said. "If I had read this letter before I voted, I would not have voted for him because I don't believe it's true. I think it's dirty politics. I haven't seen anything dirty Zak has put out," he added.
Kelly was asked to give details about when Mohyuddin made the statements. He said Mohyuddin made them during "private conversations on the walking trail" when they would take breaks at work.
Mohyuddin maintains he hasn't had a personal conversation with Kelly in 25 years.
"I am patriotic," Mohyuddin said. "I've been to all 50 states over the years. That experience in itself draws in a love of this country's beauty and greatness."
Kelly said his goal was to make people want to get out and vote.
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