Obama gives blessing to Ground Zero mosqueBy SALLY GOLDENBERG and CARL CAMPANILE
New York Post
August 14, 2010
President Obama last night strongly backed the Ground Zero mosque while celebrating Ramadan with Muslim Americans at the White House -- saying it shows that the nation's commitment to religious tolerance is "unshakeable."
"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," Obama said to applause in his first comments on the controversy.
"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 unshakeable. 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," Obama said.
Obama spoke at a White House dinner for Iftar, a celebration to begin the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The guest list included diplomats from more than a dozen Muslim nations, including Libya and Saudi Arabia.
Obama acknowledged the controversy that has been raging since plans for the lower Manhattan mosque and community center were announced.
"The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country," the president said. "And the pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions this issue engenders."
Calling Ground Zero "hallowed ground," Obama said: "We must never forget those whom we lost so tragically on 9/11 and we must always honor those who led the response to that attack -- from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today."
Before last night, White House officials had deflected questions on whether a mosque should be located a few blocks from the World Trade Center site, calling the matter solely a local one.
"I applaud President Obama’s clarion defense of the freedom of religion," Bloomberg said.
Rep. Peter King (R-Long Island), a leading opponent of the mosque, accused Obama of caving into "political correctness."
"President Obama is wrong. It is insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero," King said.
"The right and moral thing for President Obama to have done was to urge Muslim leaders to respect the families of those who died and move their mosque away from Ground Zero."
Polls have shown that New Yorkers are overwhelmingly opposed putting a mosque near the World Trade Center site.
During his dinner remarks, Obama stressed that Americans must separate al Qaeda and Islamic terrorists from the overwhelming majority of peace loving Muslims.
"Our enemies respect no freedom of religion. Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam — it is a gross distortion of Islam," he said.
"These are not religious leaders – these are terrorists who murder innocent men, women and children. In fact, Al Qaeda has killed more Muslims that people of any other religion – and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11," Obama added.