President Obama Defends “Ground Zero” Mosque, Religious Freedom

President Obama waded into the "Ground Zero" mosque controversy at a Ramadan dinner last night.

Last night, President Obama made his first public statement about the “Ground Zero” mosque controversy:

WASHINGTON — President Obama delivered a strong defense on Friday night of a proposed Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero in Manhattan, using a White House dinner celebrating Ramadan to proclaim that “as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country.”

After weeks of avoiding the high-profile battle over the center — his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said last week that the president did not want to “get involved in local decision-making” — Mr. Obama stepped squarely into the thorny debate.

“I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground,” the president said in remarks prepared for the annual White House iftar, the sunset meal breaking the day’s fast.

But, he continued: “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 will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”

In hosting the iftar, Mr. Obama was following a White House tradition that, while sporadic, dates to Thomas Jefferson, who held a sunset dinner for the first Muslim ambassador to the United States. President George W. Bush hosted iftars annually.

Aides to Mr. Obama say privately that he has always felt strongly about the proposed community center and mosque, but the White House did not want to weigh in until local authorities made a decision on the proposal, planned for two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

(…)

In his remarks, Mr. Obama distinguished between the terrorists who plotted the 9/11 attacks and Islam. “Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam — it is a gross distortion of Islam,” the president said, adding, “In fact, Al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion, and that list includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.”

Noting that “Muslim Americans serve with honor in our military,” Mr. Obama said that at next week’s iftar at the Pentagon, “tribute will be paid to three soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq and now rest among the heroes of Arlington National Cemetery.”

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Not surprisingly, Obama’s remarks are being greeted just about as you might expect them to from the usual suspects and other mosque critics. He is, however, completely right, just as Mayor Bloomberg was right in the remarks he made about this controversy weeks ago.

The worst thing about this mosque controversy isn’t the fact that someone wants to building an Islamic Cultural Center two blocks away from, and nowhere within the line of sight of, the former location of the World Trade Center. It’s that, in a nation that was founded as a refuge for people facing religious persecution and intolerance, we are seeing a rise of intolerance for an entire religion because of the actions of a relatively small number of it’s adherents.

President Obama was right to speak out on this issue, but I’m afraid that his words will fall mostly on ears that do not want to listen.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Jay Dubbs says:

    Amen.

  2. Mike O'Malley says:

    Shouldn’t Mosque also be in quotes since it’s neither at Ground Zero nor a Mosque.

  3. Fair point there

  4. John Peabody says:

    I was very pleased to hear this direct message from the President. I’m no great fan of his ideology, but this is entirely correct. What about private property rights? What about limited government? What about tolerance? If you support these, then the cultural center is of no threat to you.
    I would venture to say that a great majority of Americans are not aware of the density of the southern tip of Manhattan, and that this small building, rather than straddling the footprint of the twin towers, will be entirely lost in the canyons.

  5. Rock says:

    What President Obama should have said:

    “When we see a completed Christian Church or Jewish Synagogue next to a Mosque in the Holy City of Mecca, and gay marriages taking place in each, then the citizens of the United States and this administration would have no objections to a building a Mosque in New York City in any goddamn place they can build it.”

    That my friends, would be freedom of religion and diversity. Apparently though, what with the constant attacks on Christianity and Judaism, freedom of religion applies only to Islam, for Islam appears to be beyond criticism.

  6. John Burgess says:

    Rock… I’m still searching for that synagogue in the Vatican. Imagine, a whole state without a non-Catholic place of worship! Or maybe it’s just Google Earth that’s failed…

  7. Rock,

    That’s just absurd. The fact that their isn’t freedom abroad is no reason for limiting it here in the United States.

  8. Herb says:

    I think it’s funny that the guy defending religious freedom, private property rights, and the small government hands-off approach is a Democrat.

    While the anti-folks, almost all of them right-wing Republicans, are looking to Saudi Arabia for social guidance, don’t give two whits about property rights, and seem to want some kind of big government intervention.
     
    It seems that the Democrats are becoming more “conservative” than the Republicans, no?

  9. As much as I dislike the current Democrat policies, this mosque issue has me considering voting Democrat in November.  The fact the Republican party feels that such blatant appeals to bigotry are a good strategy, in my mind, represents a far greater threat to individual liberty in the country than any number of bad economic choices.

    Then again, unlike most Republicans, freedom means more to me than just money.

  10. Tano says:

    “It seems that the Democrats are becoming more “conservative” than the Republicans, no?”
     
    No, actually. Religious freedom has always been a liberal value. Conservatives have always been the ones to defend the belief systems of the majority, and to trash those of minorities. The history of religious freedom in this country can be traced by noting when various religions have managed to win the assent of conservatives to be let into the tent – whether it be various minority Protestant sects, or Catholicism, or Judaism, or Mormonism etc. The anti-Islamic militancy of the today’s right is nothing new. It is always the case that liberals advance freedom vs. a reluctant, reactionary conservativism.
     
    Private property rights are a wash when it comes to ideology. Both liberals and conservatives have defended such rights in certain circumstances, and trampled them in others.
    Same with small-government. Liberals tend to support keeping government out of our private lives – our bedrooms, our religions, our lifestyles – but have little problem with government playing a role in regulating the marketplace, or providing social services.
    Conservatives play the flip side – keeping government out of the economic sphere, but welcoming it into our private lives as an enforcer of morality.
    On balance, the “small government’ aspects of the mosque issue, resonate more with the liberal positions against government rather than the conservative ones. Unless we just look at the “community center’ as a business that should not be regulated – but I havent heard that argument yet.

  11. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Herb, Obama was not defending American values, he was defending his faith.  Like all good Muslims, he is using our own values against us.  We are ask to tolerate that which they do not.  They do not accept views other than there own.  Kind of like democrats.

  12. Mark says:

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    Reading this leads one who has done research and study on the subject of Islam including the more violent, later verses in the Quran that take precedence due to abrogation, amazed.
    A cursory review of writings of just a couple of governmental giants in western history, Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill, on the topic of Islam would prove enlightening too. There is no lack of current well-researched and written information about Islam and its political and societal strategy.
    There is no cure for the willful blindness displayed by proponents and supporters of this sham. It is planned two blocks away from Ground Zero because they could not find property any closer. Since I am sure you are aware of the Islamic history of building mosques as a symbol of domination and victory then you must recognize the symbolism of this facility. The selection of the name Cordoba House was no historical coincidence either. Read the words of the founder of the facility.
    In fact, the Islamic “faith” is a totalitarian and brutal political system wrapped in the cloth of religion. We are under no obligation to have our own graciousness and tolerance to be used against us by people and a strategy that wishes us subjugated, any more that we were obliged to allow our ships to be hijacked in Jefferson’s times in the name of Islam by the Barbary pirates.
    A parallel thought: If the Japanese had proposed the building of a massive Shinto shrine overlooking the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, do you think it would have been well received in 1951 or 2001 for that matter? The correct answer is “no”, and it would be of no value nor would it prove a symbol of healing.
    We as a nation are being assaulted by a well planned, well funded assault on our principals and our freedoms. Make no mistake; this mosque is a small part of a larger plan. The evidence is there if you open your eyes, look, and think.
    Regarding Obama’s position, he has stated his views and his allegiance with both his words and his actions.

  13. mantis says:

    So far from the wingnut quarters here we have “Until the Saudis live up to American principles, Americans don’t have to.” and “Obama’s a sekrit Mooslim!!!11!”  These are not uncommon opinions.
    It’s a pretty sad commentary on the state of the right in this country.

  14. Pug says:

    “When we see a completed Christian Church or Jewish Synagogue next to a Mosque in the Holy City of Mecca, and gay marriages taking place in each, then the citizens of the United States and this administration would have no objections to a building a Mosque in New York City in any goddamn place they can build it.”

    Excellent.  Let’s use Saudi Arabia as our model of religious freedom.

    Bad argument, Rock.

  15. Neil Hudelson says:

    Mark,

    There is a Shinto Shrine by Pearl Harbor. http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1437

    Pretty much everything about your comment is a failure. Including your efforts to copy and paste.

  16. Mark says:

    Neil,
    The copy and paste work out of Word was not so good I will grant you, however before you snark you might have researched the date that Shinto shrine was established. You can find it here: http://www.e-shrine.org/
    As I pointed out in my post there is a stunning lack of thought on the part of the left and libs on Islam and it’s stated goals and philosophy.
    So, go read and study up before you get your intellect handed to you on a plate. I do appreciate the feedback on the Shinto shrine.

  17. ponce says:

    “When we see a completed Christian Church or Jewish Synagogue next to a Mosque in the Holy City of Mecca, and gay marriages taking place in each, then the citizens of the United States and this administration would have no objections to a building a Mosque in New York City in any goddamn place they can build it.”
     
    Israel forbids Christians and Jews (and Muslims) from intermarrying.
     
    Shall we ban construction of synagogues here, too?

  18. mantis says:

    As I pointed out in my post there is a stunning lack of thought on the part of the left and libs on Islam and it’s stated goals and philosophy.


    Not really; we just aren’t prone to enthusiasm over holy wars in the way the right is.  The fact is there is lots to object to, from a modern perspective, in almost any religion, both in their basic principles and in their histories.  The “stated goals” of both Judaism and Christianity include widespread use of the death penalty for actions as innocuous as eating the wrong foods or wearing the wrong fabrics.

    The stated goals and philosophies are of much less importance than the practices of actual adherents.  While it’s certainly true that the practices of many Muslims are antithetical to our way of life, and the modern world in general, what is also true is that there are far more Muslims who have reconciled their faith with the modern world, as have virtually all Jews and Christians over time.  I have known a great many Muslims, both US citizens and otherwise, and I have yet to meet a single radical or Muslim who does not appreciate the freedoms and openness of the US.  If it is their religion, and not the interpretations and practices of some who belong to that religion, that is so incompatible with modernity, how could that be true?

    There is no cure for the willful blindness displayed by proponents and supporters of this sham.


    It is not willful blindness, is faith that the ideals and principles of our country are so strong and right that we should never abandon them, certainly not for the sake of stupid, misguided political pandering.

  19. Herb says:

    Mark, I will agree with this part:

    We as a nation are being assaulted by a well planned, well funded assault on our principals and our freedoms.

    Only if you think that big threat is coming from Islam, you’re wrong.  It’s coming from right-wing Republicans, who desperately need votes come November.

  20. Mark says:

    Mantis,
    I must assume from your comment you are not a student of the Bible, or Christianity. The coming of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection completely changed God’s relationship with his people. Read past the Old Testament and get into the New Testament. What ever truth was in your statement regarding Christianity ended approximately 2,000years ago. Regarding Judaism I am not as well studied, however since I note a lack of honor killings, stonings, and murders of doubters or offenders of the faith occurring here or elsewhere in the world; I am going t o assume that you have exaggerated that as well.
    Herb,
    My first inclination is to laugh and tell you not to choke on the Koolaid, but I’ll play along. Give me a couple of examples and I will hand you more than you can rebut. Better, read Andrew McCarthy’s book released earlier this year. For lighter reading, take a look at the handy Power Point that Major Hasan put together for presentation purposes shortly before he murdered soldiers at Ft. Hood. Then tell me Republicans are the biggest worry the US has.
    Let’s take this argument back to a foundation. If you will read the Qur’an you will not be in any doubt of it’s intention and it’ purpose. Read the writings and the proclamations of the leading clerics and their history here in the US. This is about political ideology and supremacy, not religion. The clerics and scholars have made it very, very clear there is to be no modification or variation from those texts. We are not under any moral obligation to appease them or pander to them any more than our founders were obligated to appease the English crown in the 1770’s.
    Final thought….how is it that the left can be so incensed about the eradication and marginalization of Christianity and to a lesser extent Judaism in the US, but so supportive and protective of Islam? Think they will “eat you last”?

  21. Herb says:

    Give me a couple of examples and I will hand you more than you can rebut…. Then tell me Republicans are the biggest worry the US has.

    Who said they were the biggest worry?  I didn’t.  I said we’re “being assaulted by a well planned, well funded assault on our principals and our freedoms” by Republicans.
     
    What principals and freedoms?  Freedom of religion.  The freedom to do what you want with property you own.
     
    And yeah, radical Islamic terrorists want to assault our principals and freedoms, too.  But if you weren’t so busy peeing your pants over them, you might realize that they can’t.  Not without the congressional majorities Republicans covet….

  22. Rock says:

    John Burgess says: “Rock… I’m still searching for that synagogue in the Vatican. Imagine a whole state without a non-Catholic place of worship! Or maybe it’s just Google Earth that’s failed…”

    Where in Saudi Arabia may a Protestant worship?

    Doug Mataconis says:

    Rock,
    “That’s just absurd. The fact that their (there) isn’t freedom abroad is no reason for limiting it here in the United States.”

    Yes, it is absurd to expect from Islam what which they expect from us. Tolerance and freedom of worship.

    Pug says: “Excellent.  Let’s use Saudi Arabia as our model of religious freedom.
    Bad argument, Rock.”

    You have got to be kidding. No thanks! I’d rather they use our model.

  23. tom p says:

    “Yes, it is absurd to expect from Islam what which they expect from us. Tolerance and freedom of worship.”

    Rock, I don’t know if this is what they expect from us or not, and what is more I don’t care. 

    It is what I expect from us.

  24. Rock says:

    Tom, I really don’t care if they build a victory mosque on the White House lawn. Wouldn’t that be a more appropriate place for it? For all I know there may be one there now. That would make it easier for the President to attend the place of worship of his choice.

  25. An Interested Party says:

    re: Rock Monday, August 16, 2010 15:16

    Ahhh…now we see the real agenda…this all is yet another way to try to smear the president as “the other”…you are now in the same loony bin as the birthers…

  26. Rock says:

    An Interested Party says:
    Monday, August 16, 2010 at 16:50

    “Ahhh…now we see the real agenda…this all is yet another way to try to smear the president as “the other”…you are now in the same loony bin as the birthers…”

    Not me. He was born wherever he said he was born.

    Look at the positive aspect of having a victory Mosque smack dab in the center of Ground Zero or as close as possible. Would that not make make Ground Zero immune from more attacks by suicidal Islamic religious fanatics dive bombing aircraft bombs into lower Manhattan?

  27. An Interested Party says:

    “Not me.”

    Yeah, you, since you are trying to insinuate that he is a Muslim…

    “Look at the positive aspect of having a victory Mosque smack dab in the center of Ground Zero or as close as possible.”

    Yet another lie…as the proposal doesn’t all for a “victory Mosque” nor is it “in the center of Ground Zero or as close as possible”…

  28. Rock says:

    I don’t know what the President’s religious beliefs are. Therefore I must ask, whither his church? Whence his reverend? We are but to wonder.

    I firmly believe in religious freedom. I say a little prayer every night for the continued health and safety of our President. I would hope that our brethren in the Muslim world do too. All I’m trying to say is that Ground Zero or the immediate environs thereto is a horrible place to build a Mosque, considering how that hole in the ground got there in the first place. I believe the President made a horrible mistake by pandering to his Muslim guest at the recent shindig at the White House. It’s as if he has no advisers with a modicum common sense hinting to him about what he should say or not when speaking to a particular group. Knowing that every utterance will be recorded and dissected by the media and other nefarious types doesn’t seem to bother him until the fire he ignites burns his fingers. His later comment that he wasn’t commenting on the wisdom of the location of the Mosque didn’t really help him that much, although I thought is was good that he say that, but it was a bit too late.

    The issue isn’t about freedom of religion as far as I’m concerned. It’s about location, location, location.

  29. An Interested Party says:

    “All I’m trying to say is that Ground Zero or the immediate environs thereto is a horrible place to build a Mosque, considering how that hole in the ground got there in the first place.”

    That hole in the ground got there because of a terrorist group, not a religion…

    “I believe the President made a horrible mistake by pandering to his Muslim guest at the recent shindig at the White House.”

    Who knew that standing up for the First Amendment is now considered “pandering” to a particular group of people…

    “It’s about location, location, location.”

    More like its about votes, votes, votes–bought with fear and ignorance…