Ground Zero mosque pits religious freedom against families of 9/11 victims
A decision to build a mosque two blocks from ground zero has divided the nation, prompting outrage among 911 families who see the decision as a slap in the face while garnering support from those who champion religious freedom. While the project was unanimously approved last night by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission, the battle is far from over. Today a lawsuit to stop the project was filed by the American Center for Law and Justice, a group founded by Rev. Pat Robertson.
The lawsuit claims the Landmarks Preservation Commission moved too quickly in determining that the 1857 Italianate building that stands on the site where the mosque is to be built is of little historic value. But city officials are confident the landmarks group acted properly and view the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of a fireman who responded to the 911 terrorist attacks, as a last ditch effort to defeat the project. The mosque has also become a political battleground that has divided democrats and republicans along party lines.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is a staunch supporter of the mosque, was among the first to weight in. Speaking from Governor’s Island yesterday with the Statue of Liberty in the background, the Mayor praised the decision to allow an Islamic center to be built near Ground Zero. “We would betray our values and play into the enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else” he said. “Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans.” While his remarks were meant to unite the city they instead divided the nation, adding fire to an already incendiary debate.
Calling Mayor Bloomberg ‘dead wrong’, former New York Governor, George Pataki, who was in office when the terrorist attacks occurred, said the issue is not one of tolerance but one of understanding and sensitivity. “If this mosque is supposed to be about understanding and respect, you don’t start out thumbing your nose at those feelings, which I believe this mosque is doing. It’s the wrong spot, the wrong thing to do and I don’t think any Americans should be afraid to stand up and say this isn’t the right thing to do based out of some political correctness”, he said.
While Pataki said that constitutionally they have a right to build the mosque, “we have a right to know where the money is coming from to build it”. He continued: “This is not the local community mosque. This is a $100m thirteen-storey facility. If this mosque is truly a place of respect and tolerance the people behind it should be willing to move it voluntarily to another location.”
This sentiment was largely echoed throughout the Republican Party, including by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin who called the project ‘inappropriate’. At the White House, Robert Gibbs, the spokesperson for President Barack Obama, told reporters that the mosque is ‘a matter for New York City and the local community to decide’. Among New Yorkers, 51 to 31 percent opposed the mosque of the 1,183 people surveyed.