Obama and the mosque: Other politicians weigh in

August 17th, 2010 by Staff

www.usatoday.com – Now that President Obama has weighed in, politicians across the country are taking positions on a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York City — and by extension on Obama.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, locked in a tough re-election battle in Nevada, seemed to undercut the president yesterday by saying the Islamic center and mosque should be moved further away from the site of the 9/11 attacks.

Of course, Republicans are also jumping on Obama’s apparent support. The New York Times reported a statement from West Virginia Republican candidate Elliott Maynard: “Ground zero is hallowed ground to Americans. Do you think the Muslims would allow a Jewish temple or Christian church to be built in Mecca?”

Rick Scott, a Tea Party-backed candidate for governor in Florida, made the first television ad based on the mosque. In the ad, Scott says: “Barack Obama says building a mosque at ground zero is about tolerance. He’s wrong. It’s about truth.”

Don’t be surprised if the issue surfaces in many U.S. House, Senate, and governor’s races this fall.

During a Ramadan dinner Friday at the White House, Obama said Muslims have the right to build a center and a mosque on property they own in lower Manhattan. The next day, Obama said he was talking about religious freedom, not the wisdom of putting this particular mosque in this particular location.

The New York Daily News reports that many Democrats felt blindsided by Obama’s comments, and that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been on the phone doing damage control.

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg applauded Obama’s remarks.

“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,” Bloomberg said.

For the record, here are Obama’s comments from the weekend, starting with Friday night:

Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities — particularly New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And 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. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.

Obama sought to clarify his comments Saturday:

In this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion. I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.

And I think it’s very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.

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