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. james

    The ADL has the right to be inconsistent in its support of religious freedom at various places around the country--but they have allied their organization with the wrong folks in the NYC discussions. Several of the most vocal "anti-ground zero mosque" figures (for example, Pamela Geller) have spewed nothing but hateful, racist, and dishonest slander about those who have proposed the mosque in NY. I would respect and support the ADL with much greater enthusiasm if they distanced themselves from such blatantly racist and hateful people.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  2. john

    5.3 miles is how far a mosque is from ground zero, so why do they need to build ANOTHER mosque AT ground zero?

    January 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  3. The Jackdaw

    Religion is poison.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Muneef

      The Jackdaw.
      Religion is an Antibiotic for all Poisons...!

      January 29, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  4. MI MAN


    January 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • rivirivi

      Too bad you are yourself one cousin of your cousins who are jews.

      January 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  5. Anna

    This comment from the article is what is severely lacking in America right now:

    "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."

    We don't have to agree with each other to get along. We just need to respect each other's right to disagree.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Westerner

      Anna: You are well meaning I'm sure, however do not be deceived... Patel uses the term all Muslims use in referring to the NY mosque that shouldn't be overlooked. The Cordoba House, importance, the LAST seat of a ruling Muslim caliphate. Aka one Muslim ruler for the entire world. AND that was in SPAIN!! Not saudi arabia, not palastine, or anywhere else near the holy land. Hmmmmmm...

      January 25, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  6. john

    5.3 miles is how far a mosque is from ground zero, so why do they need to build ANOTHER mosque AT ground zero?

    Also why should we care about giving them a mosque in NYC when in there countrys Christians have NO RIGHTS!? In another words FIX YOUR OWN COUNTRYS BEFORE TRYING TO SAY YOU ARE OWED ANYTHING HERE!

    January 24, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  7. sidney

    lolol. the comments in here are hilarious...and i thought the only nut jobs were the psycho islamic extremist. it clear that we have a bunch of brain washed bible bangers and a bunhc of crazy torah humpers....u guys need to have a convention of the crazies, smoke some pot, and chill the hell out....either that or stand in a triangle and shoot yourselves all at once.

    January 24, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  8. Roger99

    same old hashed over arguments…christians vs muslims vs jews vs liberals vs atheists vs conservatives etc.

    Personally, I tolerate anybody who tolerates me. I'm an atheist and have been since I've been old enough to think independently. Muslims do not tolerate atheists. Go to their countries and ask their religious leaders what they do with people like me. Their response is the usual stone age rhetoric consisting of ever more spectacular deaths. So…
    1: Religion of Peace it ain't (See todays news on muslims blowing up a Moscow Air terminal, or the daily muslim suicide bombings this time of year in Iraq)
    2: If this group of brainwashed muslim individuals would kill me in their country, and grudgingly tolerate me in the U.S. why should I tolerate a monument to 1400 year old fairy tales whose ultimate message is violence, intolerance and conquest? If you look like duck, quack like a duck, waddle like a duck, you probably are a duck. I'm not fooled. Go back to the middle East muslims. Stone age mullahs, despotism, nepotism, patriarchies, constant violence and intolerance in all its forms can all be yours.
    3: Stop this mosque and tear down any existing ones. Islam goes far beyond the bounds of religion, walking all over individual rights, and having no shame about mixing politics with a violent archaic belief system. It's like giving Timothy Mcveigh and the vigilantes a protected house to pretend they are protecting America.
    Nah, Not fooled, muslims. Go to the middle east where you might be welcome.

    January 24, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Westerner

      Roger that Roger!!!

      January 25, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  9. Skengdon

    Look how many posts! Religion. It has become a plague.

    January 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  10. Sam

    The problems with Islam are largely modern, and largely due to radical clerics fighting themselves into positions of authority they do not deserve. The problem is not with Islam itself.

    Even a basic study of history indicates that Jews were MUCH safer living in Muslim countries than Christian countries for most of the time periods that both religions have existed. It's only in the last 60+ years that this has changed.

    You so-called lovers of the Founding Fathers really should read our original Treaty with Tripoli.

    January 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  11. Cohen

    When Churches and Jewish Temples will be allowed to be build in all Muslim countries then we should allow to build Mosques in the United States. The Muslims using two sets of laws one for their countries and one for the United States, do not let slide.

    January 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  12. Reality

    What instigated the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? The koran, Mohammed's book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means. Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed. Then we can talk about the safety and location of mosques and what is taught therein. Until then, no male Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere.---–

    January 24, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • jamal

      As a muslim i belive churches should be allowed in muslim countries as they have every right to flourish with us. Islam is completely for freedom of religon , unfortunately we could do a better job at it. Jews were harboured by Muslim Spain where others were running them out of their states. We should live in harmony .

      January 25, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • Reality

      OK, Jamal a good first step. Now how about demanding that your holy book be corrected by deleting all the Gabriel myths?

      January 26, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  13. hmmmmm

    it was the USA government that caused 911, that's been proved over and over... the outside terrorist just got paid to do the job and was more than happy to do the job because they hate the americans so much.

    Don't forget folks, the USA government is very, very evil, they will do whatever it takes to " brainwash" the americans into believing the outside world are the evil ones... we, the american people are the lost and blind sheep... USA government wants the american people to believe the american government is their "Saviour" when events like 911 happen so the american people will trust ole' Lady Liberty!

    Remember, G. Bush said, "... I was watching the TV when the first plane Hit..." uhhhh... Sorry G. but it wasn't on TV.. it was aired the next day...

    As far as religions go... I am AGAINST any and ALL ORGANIZED religion, they want 2 things... Your money and Your Soul! Sorry, only the creator of the heavens and the earth get my soul and my money, well, the US government already got it!!

    January 24, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • rivirivi

      I myself with my own little eyes watched on TV the same morning, the same time it was happening. How can you say this did not happen and it was on tv the next day? Watch out with something called "uncontrolled imagination" it happens mostly with paranoid people.

      January 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Although I think 'hmmmmm' completely wrong to think the US had anything to do with the events of 9/11, I suspect he is trying to point out that first plane to crash into the WTC was not covered on live television.

      January 24, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Catie

      Well, it certainly sounds like someone is brainwashed I'm just not sure it is who you think it is.

      George Bush said nothing of the sort.
      "..I was watching tv when the first plane hit," uh hello, he was in a classroom with a bunch of children.
      It was not aired the next day I was watching live tv when it happened.
      You poor thing, I am putting you on my prayer list right now!!!

      January 24, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  14. WVlady63

    Of course they support this, they have their own agenda and its a selfish one at that!

    January 24, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  15. vimy17

    Jerry C

    Does that mean that all Christians believe what the Bible says in Leviticus? Last time I checked, I didn't see Christians running around the country killing gays and lesbians. Just because it's written in the Quran, doesn't mean all Muslims take it literally.

    January 24, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "Last time I checked, I didn't see Christians running around the country killing gays and lesbians."

      Yet you see, all of the time, persecution of gays and lesbians by christians because of what the bible says. They might not be killing gays, but the hatred and bigotry is atrocious

      January 25, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  16. vimy17

    You mention that Jesus teaches Christians how to deal with Muslims. Are you not aware that Jesus is considered a prophet by Muslims?

    January 24, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Malang

      As a matter of fact, a muslim is not a muslim till he/she totally believes in all the teachings of Moses, Jesus and Mohammad. It is unfortunate that we tend to look at differences rather than look at similarities... Quran is an extension of the Holy Torah and the Holy Bible. It may not be practiced as such but that is a fact. Out of 30 chapters, one whole chapter is dedicated to Mary and the immaculate conception and the miracle of Jesus. There is huge amount of text on Torah and Moses. Abrahamic traditions are deeply rooted in Islamic traditions.

      January 25, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Jesus and Moses were all Arabicized!

      Such nonsensical Islamic propaganda! Jesus, who is our Christian God in human flesh, as of Moses, are Arabicized with names like Isa and Musa – thus denying Christ as God of Christians and Moses' Jewishness! And further, to divide Jews and Christians by claiming Jesus was 'murdered' by the Jews!

      January 25, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  17. The Jackdaw

    I'm always glad to see religion spurring rational debates and kind hearted outpourings towards the follower's fellow man. The quicker humanities belief in fairy tales fades the better. The above conversations exist as testament to this fact and argument is futile.

    January 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  18. Just a thought...

    I have no issue with the Muslim faith and I believe in freedom of religion. But in no way, shape or form should a mosque be build on this site. Build it else where. It's like saying that a church attended by africian americans having been burnt to the ground by bigots and then having the KKK say, "we didn't do it, but since it happened we want to build a meeting place there."
    It's insulting. There are extremist in every religion, and if they did something like this you need to be realistic on what you want after the fact.

    January 24, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  19. Ron

    I'm a moderate to liberal kind of guy but I have to honestly admit that what bothers me the most about Muslims is the "silence" in condemning the acts of extreamists. The silence is defening and because of this, I'm beginning to lean more towards the idea of not wanting them in the U.S. I have no use for extreamists, Muslims, Christians or otherwise as such offers nothing to the world, in general, only suffering and death. I'm sure I'll hear about the "Christian" part but in the U.S. all one has to do is watch and listen to them. If they could get away with killing, they'd do, imo, in a heart beat. I view them both as being cut from the same cloth.

    January 24, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Malang

      Actually, there is a lot of noise about it. It is just not shown in mass media for what ever reason. Also, most of the muslims do not want to be on radar now a days for obvious reasons. Most of the people in Islamic world are poor and are too busy trying to survive subjugation of their western backed "democratic"govts.

      Soon we will find another people to fight, and this issue with Islam and muslims will be forgotten.

      January 25, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  20. Reality

    Once a day WARNING for new commentators:--

    • The moderators of this blog have set up a secret forbidden word filter which unfortunately not only will delete or put your comment in the dreaded "waiting for moderation" category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, "t-it" is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there are words like "an-al" thereby flagging words like an-alysis and "c-um" flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also "r-a-pe", “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, "s-ex", and "hom-ose-xual". You would think that the moderators would have corrected this by now considering the number of times this has been commented on but they have not. To be safe, I typically add hyphens in any word that said filter might judge "of-fensive".

    • More than one web address will also activate “waiting for moderation”. Make sure the web address does not have any forbidden word or fragment.

    Sum Dude routinely updates the list of forbidden words/fragments.

    Two of the most filtered words are those containing the fragments "t-it" and "c-um". To quickly check your comments for these fragments, click on "Edit" on the Tool Bar and then "Find" on the menu. Add a fragment (without hyphens) one at a time in the "Find" slot and the offending fragment will be highlighted in your comments before you hit the Post button. Hyphenate the fragment(s) and then hit Post. And remember more than one full web address will also gain a "Waiting for Moderation".

    January 24, 2011 at 2:44 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.