Aug. 13) -- President Barack Obama gave a thumbs up today to a proposed Islamic community center and mosque that is slated to be built two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks in lower Manhattan.
"Let me be clear," Obama said at a White House dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, "as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this 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," Obama said, according to CNN.
Obama's remarks drew a prompt response from Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. "President Obama is wrong," said King, The Associated Press reported. "It is insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of ground zero. While the Muslim community has the right to build the mosque, they are abusing that right by needlessly offending so many people who have suffered so much."
The proposed construction of the Cordoba House Islamic Center has divided U.S. politicians and the public. Obama's remarks follow a line of argument put forth by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who made an impassioned defense of the construction of the Islamic center in a speech delivered on Governor's Island.
Politicians such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have opposed the mosque, citing their view that the former site of the World Trade center is "hallowed ground" and that building Cordoba House in such close proximity is an affront to the memory of those who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"This is America," Obama declared today, "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. The writ of our founders must endure."
New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission has cleared the way for construction of the Islamic center, which will occupy the site that once housed a Burlington Coat Factory outlet store, but the state's governor, David Paterson, has suggested that other land might be made available to the developers of the project.