US President Barack Obama's support for the right to build a mosque just blocks from Ground Zero poured fuel on Saturday on a raging debate over religious freedom and sensitivities over the 9/11 terror strikes. Muslims "have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country," Obama said at an Iftar meal at the White House for Muslims breaking their Ramadan fast late Friday.
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."
But Obama soon did a U-turn following public outrage, especially from families of 9/11 victims.
When the proposed location touched raw nerves -- Obama clarified that he was not addressing the appropriateness of the mosque's particular location.
"I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there," Obama said on a visit to Florida.
"I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That's what our country is about," he said.Obama had remained silent over plans to build an Islamic cultural center, which includes a mosque, two blocks away from the gaping Ground Zero hole where the Twin Towers were destroyed on September 11, 2001. But after a New York city commission on August 3 unanimously approved the plans, the President came out to support the right to build the mosque.
"This is America," Obama had said, "and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. 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."
Obama acknowledged that the site where the World Trade Center towers once stood remains "hallowed ground," and that the 9/11 terror attacks "were a deeply traumatic event for our country."
Planners say the multi-story "Cordoba House" will include a mosque, sports facilities, theater, and restaurant, and would be open to the public to show that Muslims are full community members.