One Day Before Sept. 11, Obama Defends ‘Inalienable’ Right to Build Mosque Near Ground Zero

By Fred Lucas | September 10, 2010 | 3:47 PM EDT

President Barack Obama listens to a reporter's question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Sept. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Washington ( - One day before the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Barack Obama became adamant and emotional in defending the “inalienable” right of people “to practice their religion freely” and, specifically, “to build a mosque” two blocks from Ground Zero in New York City.

At a press conference on Friday, Obama was asked, “I wonder if I can get you to weigh in on the wisdom of building a mosque a couple of blocks from Ground Zero.  We know that the organizers have the constitutional right.  What would it say about this country if they were somehow talked out of doing that?”

The president said: “With respect to the mosque in New York, I think I’ve been pretty clear on my position here, and that is, is that this country stands for the proposition that all men and women are created equal; that they have certain inalienable rights. One of those inalienable rights is to practice their religion freely. And what that means is that if you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site; if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on the site.”

The president acknowledged the grief of the families of 9/11 victims killed when two hijacked planes were crashed into the World Trade Center in New York by radical Islamists, an attack plotted by the terrorist group Al Qaeda. But he stressed that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world reject extremist violence.

“I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services,” said Obama. “They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us. And we’ve got to be sure we are crystal clear, for our sakes and their sakes, they are Americans and we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure they understand that we don’t differentiate between them and us. It’s just us.”

Earlier in the news conference, the president referenced his own Christian faith after two polls from last month -- one by TIME magazine, the other by the Pew Research Center -- showed that close to 25 percent of Americans believe he may be a Muslim.

“We are one nation under God,” said Obama. “We may call that God different names, but we remain one. As someone who relies heavily on my Christian faith to do my job, I understand the passions that religious faith can raise. But I’m also respectful of people of different faiths even if they don’t subscribe to the exact same notions as I do and that they are still good people.”

The Ground Zero mosque became a national controversy after many 9/11 families protested its proposed construction because it was two blocks away from where the World Trade Center formerly stood. Also, the building there now was damaged by one of the hijacked planes when its landing gear fell on the building’s roof.

Initially, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that the matter was local and the White House would not get involved.

Then, at an Aug. 13 Iftar dinner for Muslims at the White House, Obama said that Muslims have the right to build the mosque.

“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country,” Obama said. “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.”

Most opponents of the mosque acknowledged the developers have the right to build the mosque and community center, but they questioned the propriety of the location.

One day later, Aug. 14, Obama said he was only commenting on the right to build the mosque, not the “wisdom” of doing so.