Updated 08/17/2010 09:33 AM
Bloomberg Defends President's Pro-Mosque Position
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The mayor is defending President Barack Obama's comments about a proposed mosque near the World Trade Center site, in which the commander-in-chief said that Muslims in the United States have a right to build their house of worship.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been a vocal supporter of the mosque project on the grounds that it’s a question of religious freedom, and says it is one that the government has no business getting involved in.
The president on Friday came out strongly in support of the mosque developer's right to build the 13-story center and prayer space in Lower Manhattan, but he later tried to clarify his remarks, saying he wasn't commenting on the "wisdom of the project."
On Monday, Bloomberg did not fault Obama for his follow-up comments, which were seen by some as an attempt to backpedal from his supportive words, but the mayor did not address the clarifying remarks head-on either.
Instead, the mayor said the president is a person who understands the value of diversity and the importance of protecting constitutional rights. He says the president has stood up for what is right.
"If we shout down a mosque and community center because it is two blocks away from the site where freedom was attacked, I think it would be a sad day for America," said the mayor. "I think that standing up for America's founding principles shows strength, not weakness, and I applaud the president for taking his stand. And it is my hope that the mosque and community center would add to the life and vitality of neighborhoods throughout this city."
Many Muslims in New York were heartened by his remarks.
“What's really important is that the president reminded us what this nation is founded on. Similar to others who fought for their civil rights, we Muslims are now going through the same thing,” said Dalia Mahmoud of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of NYC.
The president's intervention has sparked a national debate about the project, with Republicans from states far from New York trying to make this an issue in the midterm elections.
It appears to be working. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a tough re-election bid in Nevada, became the highest-ranking Democrat to break with Obama on the mosque issue.
“The First Amendment protects freedom of religion and I respect that," said Reid. "But I think the mosque should be built someplace else.”
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who represents Lower Manhattan, says it's up to the mosque’s members to decide where they want to pray, not elected officials.
“Government shouldn't use its power to pressure them,” said Nadler. “And I think any government official making such a statement is, in effect, using government power to try to pressure them and I think that's wrong.”
The developer behind the project says there are no plans to move the mosque.