Obama, clarifies position
Photo: AFP
Protest against mosque in New York
Photo: AFP

Obama clarifies NY mosque support

After US president's remarks on Muslims' right to build mosque near Ground Zero draw criticism, Obama says, 'I was not commenting on wisdom of decision to put mosque there,' but reiterates support of right to build place of worship

US President Barack Obama said on Saturday he supported the right of Muslims to build a cultural center near the site of the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City but would not comment on the "wisdom" of such a move.


Obama's comments came after his remarks at a White House event on Friday in which he appeared to offer his backing for the construction of a center called Cordoba House near the site known as "Ground Zero" in lower Manhattan.


Americans in both political parties, including many New Yorkers, object to the project.


Obama's comments on Friday drew criticism from conservatives and others, and the president sought to clarify them during a trip to Florida on Saturday.


Asked Saturday about the issue during his trip to Florida, Obama said: "I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding."


Obama said that "my intention was simply to let people know what I thought. Which was that in this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion."


On Friday, Obama said he believed Muslims had the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in the country.


"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," he said.


Not backing away

A White House spokesman said Obama's comments on Saturday were not a departure from his remarks at the dinner.


"The president is not backing off in any way from the comments he made last night," Bill Burton told reporters in an email. "What he said last night, and reaffirmed today, is that if a church, a synagogue or a Hindu temple can be built on a site, you simply cannot deny that right to those who want to build a mosque."


Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent who has been a strong supporter of the mosque, welcomed Obama's White House speech as a "clarion defense of the freedom of religion."


Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was among those who met with Obama on Saturday, also lauded the president's position. Crist is running for the US Senate as an independent.


"I think he's right - I mean you know we're a country that in my view stands for freedom of religion and respect for others," Crist said after the Florida meeting with Obama and other officials. "I know there are sensitivities and I understand them. This is a place where you're supposed to be able to practice your religion without the government telling you you can't."


US House Republican leader John Boehner called Obama's "endorsement" of the center's construction near Ground Zero troubling.


"The fact that someone has the right to do something doesn't necessarily make it the right thing to do," Boehner said in a statement. "This is not an issue of law, whether religious freedom or local zoning. This is a basic issue of respect for a tragic moment in our history."


Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report


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פרסום ראשון: 08.15.10, 09:16
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