There has been a recent uproar over a proposed mosque near the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Last week, the City of New York removed the last construction barrier for the project. Last Friday, President Obama made a public statement on the proposed facility. Was his statement beyond the call of duty of the president?
First, some background. The proposed mosque would be built close to ground zero, about two blocks from where the World Trade Center previously stood. Privately, members of the White House staff hoped that President Obama would not make any public comments on the proposed facility. Last Friday, however, during a White House dinner that celebrated Ramadan, President Obama made a passionate speech about freedom of religion in America. Ramadan is a holiday celebrated by Muslims.
The President did first admit that he was trying to avoid sticking his head into local issues. That said, he made some strong statements on the issue, first saying that " . . . as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country.”
Later in his speech, he said that “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." The President also made a point of distinguishing between members of Al-Qaeda and the Muslim faith at large.
In theory, the President was making a broader statement related to freedom of religion and the Constitution. Practically speaking, however, the President’s speech was directed at the controversy in New York City. Did he overstep his role as President in doing so?
The First Amendment protects the freedom of religion, a concept that has been central to America. The President’s statement was not so much an interpretation of the Constitution as it was a statement on the policy. As the leader of the country, it is unlikely he was out of his bounds in commenting on overall policy goals. Practically speaking, however, even the President acknowledged that the issue of the Mosque was an issue for the local community to decide.
What do you think? Should the President have stayed silent on the issue? Or was he justified in wading into the debate?
Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site | The New York Times