Saturday, August 14, 2010

President Obama Enters "Ground Zero Mosque" Debate

After avoiding the issue for months, President Obama finally entered the debate over locating a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center. President Obama's remarks came during a White House dinner celebrating Ramadan.

Obama strongly endorsed the rights of the individuals who want to build the mosque:
"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."
As Glenn Greenwald observes, Obama's remarks are particularly commendable (and surprising) given the enormous amount of public opposition to the planned mosque. Nonetheless, because the constitutional law on this issue is overwhelmingly on the side of the mosque proponents, had Obama taken a position opposing the project, he likely would have provoked sharp criticism from civil libertarians and legal analysts. People who oppose this project are seeking to undermine the longstanding constitutional principle of religious freedom.

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