Obama voices support for controversial New York mosque
US President Barack Obama said late Friday that he supports Muslims seeking to build a mosque in New York that has drawn criticism for its proximity to the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, dpa reported.
"As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country," Obama said during an Iftar dinner being held at the White House to break the Ramadan fast.
"That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre 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 will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are."
A private group last week won the right to tear down a New York building just two blocks from the destroyed World Trade Center with the intention of building a 15-storey mosque and Islamic cultural centre on the site. However, the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks and several prominent politicians have spoken out against the project, saying it disrespects those killed in the attacks.
Obama pointed to the first amendment of the US Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religious beliefs.
Though the president is a Christian, he has hosted religious celebrations of various faiths at the White House, including Jewish Passover seders, Hindu Diwali celebrations and Muslim iftars.