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Florida Politicians Pile on in Ground-Zero Mosque Debate

August 15, 2010 - 6:00pm

It wasn't long after President Barack Obama expressed his support for the right to constructa mosque two blocks away from the now-eerie site of the World Trade Center that Florida politicians began piling on. And, when all was said and done, only one leader from the Sunshine State said he thinks the chief executive is right.
At a state dinner Friday night honoring the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Obama raised the topic in a speech, saying he backed the creation of a mosque on a privately owned site 600 feet away from Ground Zero.

The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country, said Obama. 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, the president continued. 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.

The proposed construction has the approval of the New York City government, including the backing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. However, numerous state and national officials and groups, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the Anti-Defamation League, have opposed the idea.

Opposition has also come from family members affected by the World Trade Center attacks. Debra Burlingame and Tim Sumner, the founders of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, blasted the president for his remarks.

Muslims have worshipped in New York without incident both before and after the attacks of 9/11, wrote Burlingame and Sumner. This controversy is not about religious freedom. 9/11 was more than a deeply traumatic event, it was an act of war. Building a 15-story mosque at Ground Zero is a deliberately provocative act that will precipitate more bloodshed in the name of Allah.

Continued Burlingame and Sumner, In a breathtakingly inappropriate setting, the president has chosen to declare our memories of 9/11 obsolete and the sanctity of Ground Zero finished. No one who has lived this history and felt the sting of our countrys loss that day can truly believe that putting our families through more wrenching heartache can be an act of peace.

Obamas support of building the mosque also resulted in a number of Florida politicians weighing in. One of the few in the state to back the president was Gov. Charlie Crist, in a CNN interview Saturday.

"We are a country in my view that stands for freedom of religion, said Crist, who is running in the U.S. Senate election without party affiliation. "You know, respect for others. I know there are sensitivities and I understand that, but I think Mayor Bloomberg is right and I think the president is right."

Most of the Florida politicians who commented on the issue disagreed and took the president to task.

"We are a nation founded on strong principles of religious freedom, said former House Speaker Marco Rubio, the overwhelming favorite to win the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate election. "However, we cannot be blind to the pain 9/11 caused our nation and the families of the victims. It is divisive and disrespectful to build a mosque next to the site where 3,000 innocent people were murdered at the hands of Islamic extremism. I strongly disagree with President Obama and Charlie Crist."

Speaking at Sean Hannity's Freedom Concert in Orlando Saturday night, Rick Scott, locked in a hotly contested battle with Attorney General Bill McCollum for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, said he opposed building the mosque and criticized the president for backing it.

"Barack Obama says building a mosque at Ground Zero is about tolerance, said Scott. He is wrong. Its about truth. The truth is that Muslim fanatics murdered thousands of innocent Americans on 9/11, just yards from the site of the proposed mosque. The truth is, the leader of the Ground Zero mosque refuses to admit that Muslim extremists use terror tactics. The truth is, this is a slap in the face of Americas fallen Ground Zero is the wrong place for a mosque, Mr. President. The fact is, our president would rather stand with the ACLU and the liberal establishment than with the 9/11 victims and their families.

The Scott campaign released a television commercial Monday stressing their candidates opposition to building the mosque.

McCollum told the media Saturday that he was against building the mosque and that the president was wrong in backing it as the United States was still waging a war on terrorism.

Obamas comments also led to opposition from within his own party. State CFO Alex Sink, the likely Democratic nominee in the gubernatorial race, said the wishes of families impacted by 9/11 need to be respected. She opposed building the mosque.

Jeff Greene, who is running in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate election, said he opposed building a mosque near Ground Zero.

"President Obama has this all wrong and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near Ground Zero, especially since Islamic terrorists have bragged and celebrated destroying the Twin Towers and killing nearly 3,000 Americans, said Greene.

"Freedom of religion might provide the right to build the mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero, but common sense and respect for those who lost their lives and loved ones gives sensible reason to build the mosque someplace else, added Greene. "President Obama had the chance to show leadership by calling on the mosque's supporters to find a more appropriate location."

Traveling to Wisconsin on Air Force One Monday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton talked about the presidents comments.

The president thinks that its his obligation to speak out when he thinks issues of the Constitution are -- when issues of the Constitution arise, replied Burton to a question of why the president was weighing in on a local matter. And so, in this case, he decided to state clearly how he feels about making sure that people are treated equally, that there is a fairness and that our bedrock principles are upheld.

I cant speak to the politics of what the Republicans are doing, added Burton. And the president didn't do this because of the politics. He spoke about it because he feels he has an obligation as the president to address this."

Reach Kevin Derby at or at (850) 727-0859.

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