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January 24th, 2011
05:00 AM ET

Opponent of NYC Islamic center becomes advocate for mosques nationwide

An artist's rendering of a proposed mosque in Temecula, California that has met local opposition but is supported by the Anti-Defamation League.

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

When the Anti-Defamation League - a leading Jewish group devoted to fighting anti-Semitism and "all forms of bigotry" - came out against the construction of an Islamic center and mosque near New York's ground zero last year, some critics alleged that the organization had lost its way.

"I would have expected the ADL to support the building of this Muslim community center," wrote Alan Dershowitz, an influential legal and Jewish voice. "...At the very least I would have expected it to remain silent and not to lend its powerful and distinguished voice to an opposition that includes many bigots."

Stephen Prothero, a prominent religion professor and CNN Belief Blog contributor, said the ADL's opposition to the Lower Manhattan Islamic center showed that the group and its leader, Abraham L. Foxman, "no longer occupy a moral high ground."

CNN host and Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria returned an award and honorarium he'd received a few years earlier from the ADL, saying he hoped the move would "spur them to... return to their historic, robust defense of freedom of religion in America."

But several months after the controversy over the New York Islamic center has died down, the Anti-Defamation League has quietly emerged as a leading advocate for mosque construction projects that have run into local opposition across the country.

Last week, the group wrote a letter to the mayor and city council of Temecula, California, urging officials there to approve the construction of a 25,000-square-foot mosque project ahead of a vote on the matter this Tuesday.

The letter cites opponents who alleged the proposed mosque would be "a refuge for terrorists," and a nearby pastor who reportedly said that Islam and Christianity are like "oil and water" and that Islam is "intolerant at its core."

"We understand that such comments echo the fears and/or slurs that some Americans express toward Islam, but we urge you not to give in to them," the Anti-Defamation League's letter to officials in the Southern California city said.

"In the words of Abraham Lincoln," the letter continued, "we would appeal to the better angels of our nature and ask you to instead honor the great American tradition of freedom of religion for all and of showing respect for all religions."

The letter was backed by members of the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, a group launched by the Anti-Defamation League last September, at the height of opposition to the Lower Manhattan Islamic center, to fight for mosque construction rights.

The coalition includes some of the naton's top religious leaders.

"When we had the debate on the ground zero mosque, it focused attention on mosques in this country and the fact that mosques were having problems getting permission to build," Foxman said, explaining the genesis of the coalition and of the ADL's mosque advocacy.

"Whereas the issue with the mosque in New York was more philosophical, more about sensitivities, a lot of these mosques had the legal right to build," he said. "And someone (at the ADL) said this was a legal right that needs protecting."

For nearly four months now, the Anti-Defamation League has directed its 30 regional offices to monitor mosque construction battles, while the group's New York headquarters has convened calls and sent e-mail updates on various mosque construction projects to members of the interfaith mosque coalition.

Coalition members are a mix of Christians, Jews and Muslims. Rev. Joel Hunter, an influential evangelical voice, and Eboo Patel, a Muslim youth leader - both of whom have advised the Obama White House - have both joined the group.

The coalition's first project was advocating for a proposed 52,000-square-foot Islamic center and mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, that was facing local opposition last fall.

Equipment at the mosque's construction site had been torched, triggering an arson investigation, and a plywood sign announcing the coming center was spray-painted "Not welcome."

When opponents filed a lawsuit to block the project from moving forward last September, the Anti-Defamation League filed a legal brief on behalf of the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, arguing the suit sought to "deny the mosque's sponsors their religious freedom to worship freely."

The U.S. Justice Department also filed a brief for the mosque, and in November a judge refused to issue an order to halt construction of the Islamic center.

Though much of the opposition to the mosques in Murfreesboro and Temecula alleges that the projects violate local zoning laws because of expected traffic or noise, the ADL says such complaints can be smokescreens for anti-Islamic bigotry.

"If a community is expressing hatred, the burden is on them to show that there are compelling issues" that should prevent the projects, said Deborah Lauter, the ADL's civil rights director, who is active on the group's coalition on mosque construction.

For the mosque construction projections is has supported so far, the ADL's legal arguments revolve around the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a 1990 law requiring government to show a compelling interest if it imposes land use regulations on houses of worship.

The advocacy has not been without controversy. On Friday, one of Interfaith Coalition on Mosques' highest-profile members, Southern Baptist Convention public policy chief Richard Land, announced that he was leaving the group.

“While many Southern Baptists share my deep commitment to religious freedom and the right of Muslims to have places of worship, they also feel that a Southern Baptist denominational leader filing suit to allow individual mosques to be built is ‘a bridge too far,’” Land wrote in a letter to the ADL explaining the move.

Foxman, for his part, acknowledges that the ADL's advocacy for mosque construction projects could give the impression that the group is paying penance for its opposition to the New York Islamic center.

"Some people say so, and they're entitled to," he says.

But Foxman says the ADL's opposition to the Islamic center near ground zero still stands.

While recognizing that the New York project's organizers have a legal right to build, the ADL says it opposes the site for the project because it is insensitive to the survivors and victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks and their families and friends.

"Proponents of the Islamic center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam," the ADL said in announcing its position on the proposed New York Islamic center last summer. "But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right."

"In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain - unnecessarily - and that is not right," the statement continued.

Some prominent Muslims who the ADL later asked to join its Interfaith Coalition on Mosques declined the invitation, citing the group's stance on the New York Islamic center.

But Patel, one of three Muslims on Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, says he's been impressed by the time and energy the ADL is putting into investigating mosque construction projects.

"They are fulfilling the promise of organization,"says Patel says, who has taken criticism from some Muslims for joining the effort.

"Just because I disagreed with them on Cordoba House," Patel continued, using one of the names for the proposed Lower Manhattan Islamic center, "doesn't mean I can't work with them in another area."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Houses of worship • Interfaith issues • Islam • Judaism • Mosque

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soundoff (422 Responses)
  1. Margroks

    Having done some research about the supposed refusal to allow the Greek Orthodox church to be rebuilt it was, as I suspected, not a matter of allowing Muslims to do something while refusing the same to Christians. THe real reason the church has not been rebuilt is not anti-Christian prejudice but the fact that the church group doesn't want to rebuild on it's previous site. THe church group wants to rebuild at a different site, and build a huge church at that, which means trading or obtaining land for it from other parties. That is the hang-up. There are all kinds of things to be obtained including lots of permits and the land itself to do what they want to at a new location.

    July 13, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  2. Valerie

    It was MUSLIMS that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. I realize they were extremests. but Muslim. Is there no where else in all of New York this could be built? If all Muslims living in the US want to become part of an accepting society one would think they would show sensitivity for the lives lost in lower Manhattan 10 years ago and not build in its shadow. By not showing this sensitivity I believe they are living up to their "reputation" rather than trying to repair it.

    February 17, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  3. Greg

    No temple of worship should be allowed to be built at ground zero until the only place of worship that was destroyed in the 9/11 disaster is allowed to rebuild: St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church!

    February 13, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  4. Muneef

    Sadness Grief Misery and Sorrow
    (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LoveIslam_LiveIslam/message/1108)

    January 30, 2011 at 5:02 am |
  5. Muneef

    How many generations told about the the earlier Holy Books being stories of old,fairytales,a myth...?all about those told of in the Quran and named them all. Those all were ended in what you call today as Natural Disasters while we call it God Anger on Earth for mankind wrong doings...these alarms come to alarm the survived one's to hold on to belief and tell of the miracle... Signs,Warnings. Only then upon that moments of reality and truth, you can easily see God but it will be the face of anger and not that merciful God as to believers...

    January 29, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  6. Muneef

    “A Muslim living in an African-Arab country which had laws against polygamy secretly married another wife through a legitimate conventional contract, abiding by all its conditions except that it was not authenticated. This is because the country's established law refused to authenticate or admit it and considered such a marriage a crime for which he would have to be punished. The man used to frequent the house of his (second) wife, so the police watched him and came to assume that she was his wife and that he had committed an offence against the law. One night they waited for him, arrested him at his wife’s place and took him to court accusing him of marrying a second wife.

    “The man was clever and asked those interrogating him, ‘But who told you she is my wife? She is not a wife. She is a mistress whom I took as a companion and I call on from time to time.’ The interrogators were taken aback and told the man very politely, ‘We are awfully sorry for the misunderstanding. We thought she was a wife and did not know she was a companion.’ Thereupon, they released him because, to them, to have the illicit company of a woman as a mistress to commit adultery, which is considered within the framework of personal freedom, is protected by the law.”

    From Yusuf Qaradawi's The Status of Women In Islam

    January 27, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  7. Muneef

    They ex-ag-ge-rate with the number of Muslims since it is called a Muslim country but are those really Muslims by faith or just Muslims by birth? Those Muslims by birth are disblievers,Ath-ei-sts until they become Muslims by know-ldge and faith only.... 
    Those disblievers are rebels against the faith and re-be-l against all com-man-d-ments t-error-izing all and co-n-cealing under the name of faith taking advantage of those in sub-b-mission to God and in peace with them selves and other faiths and beliefs....
    Beside that it is not like that named self as ""pre-ci-se"" proving him self ig-nor-ant but it is that Muslims merry more than wife and not believe in birth control as to the number of children they get, they consider ab-or-tion is a sin...and believe that each child is born, comes to life along with his sub-sis-ten-ce and that God provide that for him and that parents should not fear poverty or the in-abil-ity to support...!

    But in the other hand Non Muslims might be de-crea-sing because of not allowing the di-vor-ce and remarry such as Catholics.
    Others do not allow marriage for more than one at the time.
    Others by self de-cis-ion and as for finance co-nt-rol have applied birth co-nt-rol.
    Others by au-th-or-it-ies over their heads en-for-c-ing on them birth co-nt-rol.
    So from above we see that there are to-u-gh  reg-ula-tions and c-irc-um-stan-ces are being  applied on the leg-it-imate di-vor-ce, marriages and children births !?
    Find no control what's so ever over ad-ult-ery as being (as com-pa-nions or as pro-st-it-u-tion) Relations and be-hav-iors?! Then comes results of such relations increasing ab-or-ti-ons and the births of parentless children as result of such il-leg-it-im-ate relations,or those who came by criminal relation such as r-a-pe !?

    Now such children become as bu-rd-en for tax payers and com-m-un-it-ies when raised, un-protected and un-loved by real parents and real family relatives?! How would such as those un-lucky ones look up to life,to h-um-an-ity and faith ?! Can those give or offer what they have la-ck-ed, can they give,offer and spread Love that they had not known it or exp-erie-nc-ed in reality ?!
    Further more is that allowing or leg-it-im-at-iz-ing marriages of Male to Male and Female to Female would with time have you v-a-n-is-h-ed from earth as race renewing it's own gen-era-ti-ons is de-cli-n-ing,de-cr-ea-sing gen-era-tion after another!? That's why God told that only good deeded in su-bm-is-sion,that those who will in-her-it earth !?      

    January 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  8. Muneef

    Shouldn't offend;

    You know am really found of the Native American Red Indian Stories about how when the Tribes moving as nomads after Seasonal Pasture and Foods or as in exodus to diffrent lands ! It is told that they carried the elderly on their backs and not only for being a close or far Relative ! But any elderly for the Wisdom,Experience,Practice and knowledge ! They have not neglected them or Left Them Behind as a Liability or Junk? Was it all that or Some Thing Else overseen? Could it have been as well that what you do others they will do You in Return when you become an elder !? Would Think it is for all in as One Package ! Which as well wonder if any thing about that as morals towards the Tribes that we call today community in the modern world ?! Seen about Parents in Holy Books as a Start ?!
    Now let us have a cloose look at modern man or say Politics Today where you drop all that behind and do as Personal Interests with out any commitment verbal or written Just Buy and Sell at Sale they Trade with the Fate,Faith and destiny of World and New Worlds Nations and that is why no conflict ever settled among nations but getting even worse and Modern Prophets of Inspiration and Knowldge Remind and Warn of World Food and Waters about  Famine in the world and the need for working agianst that otherwise nations would become as Live Zombies eating each other flesh. Most investments go in favour of Bueaty products and consumer products more than natural farm foods rather than artificial foods and soon with the drop of dairy farms all will become artificial just as was the case of Chinese Powder Milk ? Or should we say Baby Powder Milk ? 
    OMG Even our foods are day by day became more artificial to face increasing market demand rather than increasing farm lands and production globally to assist avoiding the famine and that way they created jobs, hopes and fed with out being effected by global changes as a hungry man is an angry man ! And that could mean even hunger for more than foods it becomes what is happening worldwide today country after another falling a part and conflicts of rebels of self interest or foreign interests ! Here comes the market place a black red market place where even human organs gangs take place among others with vast interests or reasons into conflict never ends,where people just disapear with unknown fate and no explanation or trace but when found in mass graves it is untold if were missing any organs ? Or eye lens since that was said stolen in Israel from the dead either of Army or Citizens in conflicts ?          
    Any way the morals is man oaths or country's oaths towards others and not just self interest and trade with commitments and obligations ! Not sure if that as well fell to become according to international market price in supply and demand ?!
    Which means as nations we have closed and isluated because of not being open to each other due fualts of either faiths or politics what fate await the Two Sons Of Adam When one, i should say the disbleiver  killed the other say the believer ? As one said we all were the sons of the killer who remained alive and that's why crime evel run in the blood of man and only submission controls and train those evil bloods or DNA or what ever connection between both in shaping man inner soul and inner of flesh and bone !? Mankind is becoming increasingly sick in deterioration physically,spiritually and Soul ?! Who is there to cure you other than God ? The doctors,medicine and equipment's ? Or a Heavenly Miracle would save you ?!   Yes that sort of Miracle is the force and the only force in our existence, that we are obliged to kneel for !?

    January 26, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  9. vanzorge

    anyone who is not worried about the rise of islam is sadly deluded. witness the current events in tunisia and egypt.

    January 26, 2011 at 7:28 am |
  10. DIRKA

    DIRKA, DIRKA, ... DIRKA

    January 25, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  11. Buzzing

    Well, now the Muslims have arisen "triumphant monument." This is only their beginning.....

    January 25, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  12. Paul

    The only reason the Jewish 'ADL' supports mosque building all over America, is because it will create tension between Americans and Israel's regional enemies, Muslims. If legislators are too stupid or bought to see that, their pink slips will be arriving imminently.

    January 25, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Buzzing

      I don't know of any Jew supporting the building of that mosque especally near ground zero. The Jewish people are peaceful when have you ever heard of a "Jewish suicide bomber" seeking to kill as many innocent men, women and children as possible?

      January 25, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  13. Buzzing

    I'm not at all surprised, "Opponent of NYC Islamic center becomes advocate for mosques nationwide." If it wasn't for connections between Muslim Barack Hussein Obama alias Barry Soetoro and Imam Feisal Abudl Rauf, the "mosque" would probably never arose. Every since Muslim Barack Hussein Obama took office there is a bussing of Sharia Law across the states. What's even more important then where Barack Hussein Obama was born is the rise of Islam and imposing their Sharia Law. It's hard to digest, but there is an ever on going bussing to impose Sharia Law here in the U.S. Now states are forced to amend the Consistution to prevent on going lawsuits to prevent Muslims from obtaining their own laws. It also has been reported that Muslim Barack Hussein Obama has assisted in aiding a "Yes" vote in Kenya to establish Sharia Law and aid in abortions using taxpayers money. (Here's what Obama's doing with your money-in Kenya) Worldnetdaily. Muslim Barack Hussein Obama claims that he is a "so-called christian" but just like his birth certificate, there is absolutely no proof . There is more proof when 'google" Barack Hussein Obama mocks the Bible and calls the "Koran" "Holy Koran", that Barack Hussein is Muslim than Christian. Islam is on the arise here in America, And when you have "Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf claiming, "the Muslim world will be that islam is under attack..."anger will explode in the Muslim world and there could be violence should the mosque be forced to be moved..." that is a terrorist threat! That should concern All Americans." This shouldn't be taken lightly! Now the American people are being threatened with scare tactics. They want the UN to impose a blasphemy law if anything negative is said about Islam, that in it's self should have all sorts of red blinking lights going off and on...all across America.

    January 25, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  14. Smashicus

    As long as muslims continue murdering around the world, I in no way want to encourage them to come to the U.S. Simple as that.

    January 25, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.