the dawn-to-dusk fast for Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan,
at the White House. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
President Supports Plan for
Mosque Near Ground Zero
President Obama on Friday took a strong stand in favor of building a mosque near the site where Muslim terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, breaking his silence on a political tempest that has left the country divided.
In prepared remarks for a White House dinner celebrating Ramadan, Obama framed the issue as one of religious freedom. Muslims, like anyone else, "have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country," Obama said. "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."
The uproar over the proposed mosque has rekindled a debate over religious tolerance in a post-Sept. 11 society. Some relatives of Sept. 11 victims have come out against the mosque, as have prominent politicians. Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin wrote in a Twitter feed that the mosque would be an "unnecessary provocation" at a time when the collapse of the Twin Towers was "too raw, too real."
A majority doesn't want to see the mosque built, surveys show. A CNN/Opinion Research poll earlier this month showed 68% opposed plans to build the mosque, with 29% in favor. Count as part of the minority New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently gave a speech defending the planned Islamic center.
In a statement released Friday night, Bloomberg said: "As I said last week, this proposed mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan is as important a test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime, and I applaud President Obama's clarion defense of the freedom of religion tonight."
As the debate raged, Obama stayed out of it. As recently as last week, his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, described the matter as one "for New York City and the local community to decide."
But the White House's Ramadan celebration presented a unique moment for Obama to make his position known.
"Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan," he said in a prepared text released by the White House. "The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders."
That said, he added: "This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable."
Supporting the mosque is a dicey proposition for Obama. Polls have shown a certain percentage of Americans mistakenly view him as a Muslim. He is Christian. Defending the mosque invites suspicion that he is overly sympathetic to the Muslim faith. At the same time, Obama has taken pains to reach out to the Muslim world. He gave a major speech in Cairo last year calling for "a new beginning" between the U.S. and Muslims.
At a time when unemployment is high and America is engulfed in two wars, the furor is one that Obama might have preferred to sidestep. But it isn't going away, and with the rest of the world looking on, Obama decided that his silence was no longer sustainable.
The ' birther-nuts ' will be going
CRAZY over this one !