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. B. A.

    Good ole JDL. Since there are no intelligent leaders anywhere anymore, the inept idiot in charge of the JDL took a biased stance on the ground zero mosque. After sticking his organization's foot in it's mouth, he had to do some mental gymnastics and plain ole lying. "Oh, the mosque in NYC is different than all the other mosques in the world."So it's ok for us to oppose this mosque because people's feeling might get hurt." (btw, emotional reasoning should not be used in a real "rights" issue). And because they figured people would see through that verbal tap dance, they threw up the smokescreen of supporting "other" mosques. That's their lie and they're sticking to it. THIS IS STILL TRANSPARENT BS. Jews pretending to back their arch enemies, the Arabs, is ludicrous. I guess the JDL has gone the way of all the other corrupt and conscienceless "help" groups claiming to stand for truth, justice and everyman. But, in reality standing for the personal money making agendas of greedy bigots in charge.

    January 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  2. cmiles

    I'm christian & I think muslims have every right to build a place of worship in the united states. I just don't believe it is right or fair to the people of NY that endured the great tragedy of 9/11 to have 2 see a reminder of the people that killed many of their friends & families. Yes it is their right to build but what about OUR rights as free americans to decide whether or not to desicrate that tragic spot with a reminder of who caused it!

    January 24, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • claybigsby

      its is not our right to impede on the rights of others no matter how strongly you are against it.

      January 25, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Malang

      Bur muslims died in those towers too and there were no WMDs.......

      January 25, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  3. Abdulameer

    Abe Foxman of the ADL sold out his people and the mission of the ADL a long time ago. His claim to oppose bigotry and anti-Semitism stops just as soon as the question of Islam is raised. Anyone who has read the Koran and some of the sayings of Muhammad knows that Islam is inherently anti-Semitic, and violently so. This anti-Semitism comes from the holy texts of Islam and from the entire Islamic religious establishment. Here are just two infamous examples of what the Moslem prophet Muhammad said:
    - Muhammad said to the Jews: "If you embrace Islam, you will be safe. You should know that the earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle, and I want to expel you from this land. “
    - Allah's Apostle said, "You (i.e. Muslims) will fight with the Jews till some of them will hide behind stones. The stones will (betray them) saying, 'O 'Abdullah (i.e. slave of Allah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me; so kill him.' " This last one is incorporated into the Hamas Charter, but it is considered sacred by all religious Moslems including the imams of the mosques that Foxman is supporting.
    Foxman does not say a word about this. Islamic anti-Semitism is taught and preached in every mosque in the world, including the mosques which Foxman is supporting. Why not?
    ALL mosques are centers for the propagation of the totalitarian and imperialist ideology of Islam, including its anti-Semitism.

    January 24, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Muneef


      Strange to see an Islamic name writing bad things about Islam ? So are you sure you are Muslim? Well if you were Muslim you would have known that Islam is Semitic and not Anti as refered by you? Well at least as Arabs being Semitic as the following chapters mentions;

      Al-Hajj sura 22:
      In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
      And strive for Allah with the endeavour which is His right. He hath chosen you and hath not laid upon you in religion any hardship; the faith of your father Abraham (is yours). He hath named you Muslims of old time and in this (Scripture), that the messenger may be a witness against you, and that ye may be witnesses against mankind. So establish worship, pay the poor-due, and hold fast to Allah. He is your Protecting friend. A blessed Patron and a blessed Helper! (78).

      January 29, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  4. Linda Rivera

    Experts have warned that over 80% of mosques in America have been radicalized by Saudi money and influence. This is a very grave concern to many Americans, but yet this legitimate concern is completely ignored by our leaders. Because of our legitimate concerns, we are called bigots.

    Under Islamic sharia law, women are treated as inferior and non-Muslims have no human rights. The punishment for leaving Islam is death. How can anyone call that freedom of religion?

    Council on American-Islamic Relations: “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faiths, but to become dominant. The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.” – Omar Ahmad (CAIR co-founder).

    Addressing a youth session at the 1999 Islamic Association for Palestine’s annual convention in Chicago, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) founder Omar Ahmad praised suicide bombers who “kill themselves for Islam,”

    January 24, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Muneef

      Linda Rivera.

      Think you are wisely right to have your concerns but let me Guide you to ask which branches of Islam handles each mosque you know of and find out more about their mentality and they call for since not all branches of Islam are of danger, but you mentioned some thing which make me feel that there is a possibility that you got the most redial branch of all Islam branches... This branch is taking advantage of the presence of non harming Muslims to expand it's redical teachings by offerings or force turning Islamic communities from normal to most redical of all...do not favor to give the name of that branch but sure you will find it if you look for it...

      January 29, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  5. rivirivi

    And to the so called Holy book of whichever religion pushers- Half of your stories are false, and the rest were made up by crazy old perverted men. In reality everyone and everything exist within a limitless creative force and separatism in your stupid little idiotic groups fighting among each other about which group is the most beloved by God is just more idiotic than ever.

    January 24, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  6. yianni

    "If you were to ACTUALLY READ what it says in the Quran and not just listen to idiots and bigots in the media, you will see that Islam truly is a compassionate, understanding religion."

    He, He, He, what an IDIOT to write this. Ask the Armenians, the Greeks, the Assyrians to tell you how compassionate Islam is. Wait till you hear the loud speakers for prayers from the Mosque next to you house. And the Imam preaching against the Infidels. Then you tell me about compassion of Islam. WAKE UP America!!!!!

    January 24, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  7. DMcK

    Oh my gosh! This means the ADL has obviously been infiltrated by stealth jihadists. Yes, these mosques are places where hatred of our western freedoms are inflamed – one report said 85 percent of them. Plus their schools for young muslims often have the same hatred taught as part of the curriculum – google it!

    January 24, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  8. yianni

    There might be Muslims this minute planning how to bring down bridges, tunnels, subway stations. There might even be digging under the white House or the Capitol. Believe me the cancer is spreading to America. Whether they are Turks or Pakistanis or whatever country they come from it does not matter. Their ultimate purpose is to destroy every culture. I am not religious, but look how many Christians, how many Churches have been left in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan or any other Arab country. Wake up America before it is too late. Stop the cancer from spreading.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  9. Sara

    Everyone has their own belief system, or none at. No one is right and no one is wrong and no one wins. It is what you believe, can't people respect that.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  10. Pastor Mike Palevo

    This doesn't surprise about the ADL. It's not about what is right, but money, power, control, manipulation. It's an evil empire that is bent on destroying Christianity. It should be called the Anti Christ League! It's roots are Communistic, Socialistic, Marxist, and Atheistic. It's just a cover for this Jewish Organized Crime Syndicate.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  11. DemocratLiveLong

    I wonder if they will ever have a joint pig roast and BBQ rib fund rasing event.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  12. DemocratLiveLong

    They did not mention in the article how they are BOTH objecting to a Hooter's and a RR&B Pulled Pork BBQ restaruants in the same area. This does not seem right.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  13. Gift from G-d

    @John, how much is the troll toll.. U are perhaps the most stupid person i have read a comment on today.. Go back the hole you came from

    January 24, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  14. Hey Hey

    The only reason the ADL did this was PR. Plain and simple...We all read through this.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  15. Pastor Mike Palevo

    This doesn't surprise me about the ADL. It's not about what's right, it's about Control, Money, Manipulation, Agenda, etc. The ADL stinks to High Heaven! The ADL is just a Jewish Chameleon! Their roots are Communistic, Socialistic, Covert, Marxist organized Crime Organization! It's simple as that.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  16. rivirivi

    I disagree with the word game people all over are using regarding the building or mosques all over the world. Mainly, because in all the verbiage about freedoms of beliefs there is something so important, so blatantly acute yet everyone do not even mention it, except- oh genial me: Why would anyone in the whole world support any type of creed/belief/religion where a whole lot of humans – as in millions of human women – are not allowed to go to school, to even just read and write- less become a teacher, doctor, lawyer, president of their own companies, their own countries, mutilated by the millions when they reach puberty, WHY is this allowed? Why is this not even mentioned as a crucial fact of this religion's wrong doings, even if the radicals do not kill anyone else anymore, do not bomb with nails to cause more damage thousands of innocents year after year- it is left the matter of the suffering abused neglected brainwashed mutilated put down kept down human women??? Until you all have gonads and yell this is one of the main problems of Islam, I believe all that you all say has no meaning!

    January 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Not saying that women are accorded equal rights in Islam, but get you facts straight:

      Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority country, elected Megawati Sukarnoputri as president
      Pakistan, the second most populous Muslim-majority country, twice (non-consecutively) elected Benazir Bhutto as prime minister
      Bangladesh, the third most populous Muslim-majority country, elected Khaleda Zia[5] and Sheikh Hasina as prime ministers
      Turkey, the fifth most populous Muslim-majority country, elected Tansu Çiller as prime minister
      ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_political_leaders_in_Islam_and_in_Muslim-majority_countries )

      January 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  17. Sara

    I believe in freedom of religion, just like freedom of speech. So what let them build. What difference does it really make at the end of the day. I guess I just don't get it.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Buzzing

      Islam is based on "fear-tactices" and "muscle-tactices". It isn't a polite religion, why don't you read up on Islam and what happens to those who want to back-out or leave Islam? What happens to daughters if they engage in "outside" their belief with Christians or caught with a Bible? Look what's going on to Christians in Muslim countries? Turkey, two Christians printing Bibles were killed by Muslims. Many Muslims must go under-ground to read their Bible. One woman in a Muslim country was accused of converting a Muslim woman and now is imprisoned. You will not read about such going on by CNN, ABC CBS, oh no, that wouldn't be "politically correct" and how would that make Muslim Barack Hussein Obama look?

      January 25, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  18. Thought police

    There is no God. Religion is a crutch for people that can't deal with reality. Sadly the world will probably end because of those same people. Time for some facts people.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  19. Bill

    People that don't want the mosques built are not necessarly bigots. My religious beliefs are of Catholicism. I have never been predjudiced against other christians, Jews, Muslims, Athiests, or anyone with other beliefs or disbeliefs. I would like to think most people are the same and only a few are bigots. However we are in dangerous times and our country that we all thought was vulnerible to terrorist attacks has changed since 9/11. Presidents may say we should not live in fear, but that don't mean we all believe that. Our economy goes bad, unemployment goes up, crime goes up, and our local, state, and federal governments react by laying off civil servants that spent there lives protecting us. No wonder people are jumping off bridges and going nuts and killing people. They are scared to death and finally give up. Religious beliefs have a way of changing peoples minds during such times. Churches and other religious buildings are sanctuaries for both praying to God and hoarding terrorists.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  20. bailoutsos

    Follow the money trail and you will see why they are now for it.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:16 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.