Obama: They have every right.
President Barack Obama had initially skirted the issue of the mosque being built as part of a community center near the Ground Zero site in New York. The parties involved had sorted out the details and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf obtained City and other relevant approvals to proceed with the construction of the project dubbed “Park 51.” Then the president changed his mind and made an unexpected comment and now the roaring has started.
As he departed for a weekend retreat in Florida on Saturday, Obama is said to have commented on a Friday night White House speech in which he asserted that Muslims have the same right to freedom of religion as everyone else in America.
They Have a Right
“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.”
His comment was taken by some to mean that he strongly supported the building of an Islamic center near the Ground Zero site, although he never actually said that.
Speaking to a gathering at the White House on Friday evening to observe the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Obama said that he believes “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances,” he said. “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”
He did not say whether he believed it to be a good idea or not to build the Muslim house of prayer steps away from the site where the World Trade Center once stood before it was felled by jets manned by Muslim terrorists.
Obama’s seemingly impromptu statement has thrust him in the midst of a debate which he had skirted for weeks. The
White House stance had been that the issue of the mosque was a local matter. Until Friday, it had maintained that it did not want to get involved in local decision-making.
In swift support of his statement, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent who has been a strong supporter of the mosque, welcomed Obama’s White House speech as a “clarion defense of the freedom of religion.”
In a Yahoo News interview Gov. Charlie Crist, Florida, who was among those who met with Obama on Saturday, lauded the his action. “I think he’s right — I mean you know we’re a country that in my view stands for freedom of religion and respect for others,” Christ said after the Florida meeting with Obama and other officials. “I know there are sensitivities and I understand them. This is a place where you’re supposed to be able to practice your religion without the government telling you you can’t.”
But others were just as swift with their objections. Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene of Florida interpreted Obama’s Friday speech as support for the construction.
“President Obama has this all wrong and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near Ground Zero especially since Islamic terrorists have bragged and celebrated destroying the Twin Towers and killing nearly 3,000 Americans. Freedom of religion might provide the right to build the mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero, but common sense and respect for those who lost their lives and loved ones gives sensible reason to build the mosque someplace else,” he said in a Yahoo News interview.
The mosque is part of a $100 million Islamic community center being constructed two blocks from where some 3,000 people were killed when hijackers crashed two jetliners into the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001.
The proposed construction has sparked debate around the country that included opposition from top Republicans including Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich as well as the Jewish civil rights group the Anti-Defamation League.