President Obama is being criticized by three Republicans for speaking out in favor of the proposed mosque near Ground Zero.
At a Ramadan dinner on Friday, Obama said that although it is a sensitive issue, he supports the right of individuals to build a mosque near Ground Zero, without saying whether it should be built.
"The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground." Obama said.
"But let me be clear: As a citizen and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. 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 unshakable. 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. The writ of our founders must endure," Obama added.
Republicans have taken Obama's comments and run with them as political fodder in election season.
House Minority Leader John Boehner said: "The decision to build this mosque so close to the site of ground zero is deeply troubling, as is the president's decision to endorse it."
"The American people certainly don't support it," Boehner said.
Former House Speaker and potential 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said: "There is nothing surprising in the president's continued pandering to radical Islam," he said. "What he said last night is untrue and in accurate. The fact is this is not about religious liberty."
Finally, New York Rep. Peter King said: "President Obama is wrong. It is insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero. While the Muslim community has the right to build the mosque, they are abusing that right by needlessly offending so many people who have suffered so much. The right and moral thing for President Obama to have done was to urge Muslim leaders to respect the families of those who died and move their mosque away from Ground Zero. Unfortunately, the president caved into political correctness."
Actually, the right thing for Obama to do would have been to keep his nose out of the issue until the matter resolved itself.
Obama is correct when he says the mosque organizers have a right to build the structure under this country's religious freedoms. It would say a lot about this country if the mosque was built near Ground Zero. It would say that we truly believe in the ideas of religious freedom that we profess to all the time, not just when it is convenient or fits in with our ideals.
Critics also have a point when they say they feel the move is insensitive, but Americans would be outraged if someone tried to prevent the construction of a church near where some right-wing Christian militia committed some terrible act.
However, Obama's involvement does nothing more than make this a national political issue. Unfortunately, Obama has a habit of commenting on issues that he should keep quiet about.
His comments about the Henry Louis Gates controversy is the best example. Obama's comments about the arrest and criticism of the police before all the facts were clear nearly derailed his proposal to overhaul our health care system. It took the story from a one or two day story to a developing story complete with a "beer summit" at the White House.
Obama's comments also came as mosque organizers said they were open to New York Gov. David Patterson's offer to help the mosque get land for the building elsewhere.
"Fact: We are open to discussions with Governor Patterson and never said no to speaking with him," the mosque organizers tweeted.
Now, just as it looks like this issue may have been heading to the peaceful ending it deserves, Obama's comments may stir it up again. The president should speak out on issues that he feels are of importance to the country but he should pick his battles more carefully.