President Barack Obama said a Muslim group has a right to build an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country,” Obama said tonight. “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.”
In remarks prepared for an annual White House iftar dinner, the traditional breaking of the daily fast in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Obama for the first time weighed in on the debate about the planned mosque.
“This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable,” Obama said. “The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”
The proposal to put the center on Park Place, two blocks from the target of the 2001 attacks, has drawn opposition from politicians such as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, both Republicans, as well as the Anti-Defamation League.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn have supported the project. Bloomberg praised the president’s comments. “I applaud President Obama’s clarion defense of the freedom of religion,” he said in a statement.
The Cordoba Initiative, the project’s sponsor, describes itself as devoted to ecumenical relationships with other faiths. New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously Aug. 3 to allow the demolition of a building on Park Place that would be replaced by a mosque.
“We must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan,” Obama said. “I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.”
Obama said religious freedom is among the things “we are fighting for” against terrorists such as al-Qaeda. “Our enemies respect no freedom of religion,” he said. “These are not religious leaders -- these are terrorists who murder innocent men, women and children.” (Continues here)