For the first time, President Obama has weighed in on the controversy over the planned construction of a mosque and Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan at the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory store, two blocks from Ground Zero. On Friday, President Obama addressed the issue during an iftar dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in the White House State Dining Room.
President Obama: "As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the 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."
Less than twenty-four hours later, President Obama was asked about the mosque by a reporter and appeared to backtrack from his statement of the night before.
President Obama: "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. That’s what our country is about."
Republicans are vowing to make the controversy over the proposed Lower Manhattan mosque a campaign issue in the fall. Texas Senator John Cornyn, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, appeared on Fox News Sunday.
Sen. Cornyn: "I do think it’s unwise, and it — to build a mosque at the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as a result of a terrorist attack. And I think, to me, it demonstrates that Washington, the White House, the administration, the President himself, seems to be disconnected from the mainstream of America."