(Update: Deputy White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters on Monday that "politics" was not a factor in President Obama's decision to discuss the building of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. Burton said Obama "felt it was his obligation as president to address this," the Associated Press reported. Obama, Burton said, felt obliged as president to "make sure people are treated equally" under the Constitution.)
(CNSNews.com) – House Republican leader John Boehner (Ohio) says the decision to build a mosque two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in lower Manhattan is “deeply troubling” -- and so is President Barack Obama’s decision to “endorse” the mosque construction.
“The fact that someone has the right to do something doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do,” Boehner said in a statement issued on Sunday. “This is not an issue of law, whether religious freedom or local zoning. This is a basic issue of respect for a tragic moment in our history.”
Obama put himself at the center of the mosque controversy on Friday, while hosting a Muslim iftar dinner at the White House.
While discussing freedom of religion – and the importance of religion in America -- Obama mentioned the recent attention focused on plans to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.
“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. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. (Applause.) 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. 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…”
On Saturday, during a weekend trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast, the president clarified his remarks: "I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there (near Ground Zero)," the president said. "I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. That's what our country's about."
Republicans say President Obama is out of step with the American people.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Obama is “disconnected from mainstream America" and that voters this fall will "render their verdict."
“We can never forget that terrible day, and the heroes who lost their lives - often in the hope that others might live,” Boehner said on Sunday. “We honor their memory and their sacrifice, always.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) criticized President Obama for “trying to have it both ways.”
“If the president was going to get into this, he should have been much more clear, much more precise,” King said on CNN’s “State of the Union."
King said Obama endorsed the mosque construction on Friday, then backed away from it on Saturday: “And you can’t go changing your position from day to day on an issue which does go to our Constitution and it also goes to extreme sensitivities,” he said.
King has urged Muslims seeking to build the mosque to find another location.
Ed Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman, told CBS’ “Face the Nation,” that Obama’s comments on the mosque were very revealing:
“He basically said that the 70 percent of Americans who are opposed to this controversial imam building this controversial mosque at Ground Zero are seeking to deny the religious freedom of Muslims in this country. That's how he cast it," Gillespie said.
“I think it tells you that he has a very disdainful view of the American people. And I think that's one of the reasons his favorability ratings have come down, not just his job approval ratings. People see that in him. There's a kind of a condescension toward Americans that they don't like."