Debate continues about a proposed Muslim mosque and community center near ground zero of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. Prominent U.S. Senators are the latest to join the fray.
Rarely does a local building project draw national attention and provoke such passionate debate. But the proposed mosque, blocks from where New York's World Trade Center once stood, has struck a nerve among many Americans and spawned debate on how to balance local sensitivities with America 's historic commitment to religious freedom.
Rhode Island Democratic Senator Jack Reed is echoing President Barack Obama's recent comments affirming the constitutional right of all people to practice their religion.
"The president, I think, is right to point out that our traditions do embrace tolerance for all religions," he said. "And, I think he also recognized that this debate is quite painful to the victims, to the families. It brings back the terrible moments of 9-11."
Reed spoke on Fox News Sunday.
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Saturday, President Obama reiterated his defense of religious freedom, but added that he is not commenting on the wisdom of building a mosque in New York's Lower Manhattan.
Texas Senator John Cornyn does not favor the idea.
"This is not about freedom of religion, because we all respect the right of anyone to worship according to the dictates of their conscience," he said. "But I do think it is unwise to build a mosque at the site where 3,000 lost their lives as a result of a terrorist attack. And to me it demonstrates that Washington and the White House seem to be disconnected from the mainstream of America."
Senator Reed says it is in America's interests to serve as an example of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence, particularly given the continued U.S. engagement in Afghanistan.
"We are sending young army [soldiers] and marines, special forces people into villages to try to find common ground with Muslims," he said. "To try to put aside the obvious differences that might superficially appear. And if we cannot do that here in the United States, then we are going to have a very difficult time over there [in Afghanistan ]."
Building permits are granted by local governments. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has expressed support for the proposed mosque as a vehicle to bridge differences in the city.