Obama’s “Ground Zero Mosque” Backtrack

Says his position is about upholding the Constitution, not politics.

By Julianne Hing Aug 16, 2010

After so commendably offering support for the construction of a Muslim community center in New York on Friday and facing a barrage of Islamophobic hysterics in response, President Obama has since backtracked on his comments.

On Saturday, Obama quickly distanced himself from his previous day’s comments, which he made at a Friday evening White House iftar to recognize Ramadan. Over the weekend he said that he was not commenting on the "wisdom" of the center’s being built and instead just underscoring Americans’ fundamental right to religious freedom.

This morning aboard Air Force One, the AP reported that an Obama administration press secretary reiterated Obama’s weekend remarks, saying that his entering the fray on both days was "not politics," but simply about the president’s desire to uphold the Constitution.

The debate over the proposed community center has long been vitriolic. Take for instance the public shorthand for the community center. It’s often called the "Ground Zero mosque" project, when in fact the interfaith, multi-use community center will have plenty of functions, one of which happens to be a prayer space. It’s also not even located at Ground Zero. And yet, the claim leveled at community center builders is that the entire project is an insult to the memory of those killed in Sept. 11. Over the weekend, Rep. David Vitter of Louisiana told CBS: "President Obama’s support of building the mosque at Ground Zero is a slap in the face to the American people and I’ve demanded that President Obama reverse his position."

Last week, Michelle Chen blogged about the New York public transit authority’s green light to an anti-Muslim bus ad that sums up the worst of the base remarks. The graphic shows an image of of the Twin Towers shortly after the planes hit, and calls Sept. 11 the "WTC Jihad Attack," with a straight arrow shooting to a new building with a crescent and star. That building represents the proposed "WTC Mega Mosque."

The debate desperately needs some sense injected into it. That role could have gone to the temporarily lionhearted president, but it’s clearly not a job he wants anymore

These were President Obama’s original comments:

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.