House Majority Whip Defends Obama's Remarks on Ground Zero Mosque

By Nicholas Ballasy | August 17, 2010 | 12:00 PM EDT

( - Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said on Monday that it was "a presidential act worth exercising" for President Barack Obama to publicly express support for the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City . Speaking at the U.S. Capitol, Clyburn also said the president “made clear” that  the existence of the mosque should be measured against “community standards.”

“When it comes to where and how any structure, any sanctuary should be built, we have what we call in this country community standards, and community standards ought to be left up to the communities," said Clyburn at a Capitol Hill press conference.  "So the decision on permitting for any building, be it a mosque or a church -- whatever -- be it a place of worship or be it a grocery store or a liquor store, those things are left up to community standards, and I think in this instance that’s what the president has made clear."

Clyburn also defended the president. “Well, I think, I wouldn’t say that he [Obama] caused more trouble. I think as president of the United States, articulating the constitutional principles upon which this country were founded and calling for tolerance on the part of all of its people is a presidential act worth exercising.”
President Obama mentioned the Ground Zero mosque during his remarks at a Muslim iftar dinner last Friday at the White House.

“Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan,” Obama said. “The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country.  And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable.  So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders.  And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground."

"But let me be clear," said Obama. "As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same 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 unshakeable.  The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.  The writ of the Founders must endure."

"We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who led the response to that attack -- from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us also remember who we’re fighting against, and what we’re fighting for," said Obama.  "Our enemies respect no religious freedom.  Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam -– it’s a gross distortion of Islam.  These are not religious leaders. They’re terrorists who murder innocent men and women."
The plan to build the Ground Zero mosque is sponsored by the Cordoba Initiative, which says it “brings together leaders across the Muslim-West divide to speak out for innovative, proactive, and positive solutions to challenges we share.”

The project’s promoter is Iman Feisal Abdul Rauf, a Sufi, which is generally defined as “a Muslim who represents the mystical dimension of Islam.”