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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. Jess

    "a nearby pastor who reportedly said that Islam and Christianity are like "oil and water" and that Islam is "intolerant at its core.""

    "Intolerant at its core", huh? There's the pot calling the kettle black...

    January 25, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  2. V

    Look, I'm one of the most open-minded person you can find and I'm all about building a mosque that is open to the public and total transparent... but in light of what happened in Russia, I have to say that I don't want to get blown up, I don't want my partner to get blown up, I don't want my future kids to get blown up. That is a real fear and real threat - and I just feel that lessening the radicalism of the Islamic religion, and in fact, all religions that are radical and to be frank, crazy. I just want this nation to get real and believe that God is a good and open and caring, and not an evil bigot like some of these religious radicals make him out to be. So my vote as a New Yorker is no. I don't pay hundreds of thousands in taxes each year to get blown up at the airport...

    January 25, 2011 at 5:15 am |
    • claybigsby

      you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes each year? I call BS unless you are making $1M or more, which you prolly arent considering you are blogging and not earning that scratch.

      January 25, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  3. GOD

    Why is there so much conflict in my name?

    January 25, 2011 at 5:04 am |
  4. Adam

    9/11 Was the sole exception, otherwise, lets keep it simple and concise. America is the land of the free, it is the symbol of freedom and better stay that way. This is America, you have the right to worship whatever you like where ever you like, Muslims have the right to build a Mosque where ever the heck they want. Only reason the new york city one shouldnt be built is because supposedly, families of 911 victims opposed it and not building it there is the least they could do to try to ease their grief. Prolly loads of mosques in new york anyway, built it somewhere further away.

    January 25, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  5. AMENWISE

    What about a cultural center devoted to promoting peace and diversity? As it is no one can enter a mosque unless they are a Muslim. So why not build something for the human family? A place where all can worship freely without persecution. Isn't that why this great nation was started? A new world where you are free to worship as you see fit, without someone telling you otherwise. I am all for respecting other cultures but I will not deny who I am to make someone else happy. We are Americans, we come in all shape sizes and colors and religions. Building a mosque at ground zero is raising the white flag. You are saying attack us and kill innocent people and we will build a place in your honor. In my opinion a multi-religious center for all is what is needed. So that we can learn religious tolerance on both sides.

    January 25, 2011 at 12:56 am |
    • Malang

      Who said that non muslims are not allowed inside mosques? Have you ever been thrown out of a mosque? Please don't carry the burden of spreading lies in order to promote hatred and eventual genocide.

      January 25, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Muneef

      Muneef
      Well they will be allowed if they had made the ritual ablution as it should be first !? Am not sure though if they males have to be "cir-cu-mc-ised" first before being allowed into a Mosque or that is only done if they decide to convert in to being Muslims !?

      January 29, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  6. Jose M. Pulido

    My Fellow Americans, especially Californians,

    It is a horrible feeling for many of the Christian and many other non Muslim residents of Temecula to learn that an Islamic/Muslim terrorist sleeper cell mosque is coming soon to their neighborhood.
    Islam is a declaration of war against the USA, against Israel and against all others who do not enslave themselves into it. Islam is a governmental ideology and not a friendly religion. It is wise to remove Islam from the USA now that we still have time because soon it will be too late. Christianity was and still is spread by God's Word through His son Jesus Christ while Islam was originally spread by Mohammed's sword; but if they could get away with the sword, they would still do it; but as of today, it would be too obvious and too visible. When Islam started spreading by murdering and beheading all those who refused to convert to it, there was no Internet, much less Face Book, Twitter or You Tube where their possible future atrocities could be exposed to the world.
    To oppose the construction of Islamic/Arab terrorist sleeper cells and to request the expulsion of Islam out of the USA is not racism or bigotry nor an obstruction to freedom of religion because, as I mentioned, Islam is not a religion but a declaration of war against all those whom they arbitrarily call “infidels.” Islamists demand to be allowed to build mosques all over the USA and to practice their Islamic ideology while they oppose all other religions. That means that when they get enough numerical strength, they will eliminate all other religions in the USA, except the Islamic bellicose ideology. May God, the Creator of the universe and His Son Jesus, spare us from the tyranny of Islam.

    January 25, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • claybigsby

      "Islamists demand to be allowed to build mosques all over the USA and to practice their Islamic ideology while they oppose all other religions. "

      You can say what you said about any religion. They are all garbage.

      "Christians demand to be allowed to build churches all over the USA and to practice their Christian ideology while they oppose all other religions."

      January 25, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Muneef

      Well he will be allowed if had made the ritual ablution, am not if he has to be cir-cu-mc-ised before That or only if he decided to become Muslim only?!

      January 29, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  7. mrkihn

    Being the people killed at ground zero were killed supposedly in the name of Allah . I don't think the area close to ground zero should be the site for their mosque. The Muslim leader should also see that and have more respect. They can build their mosque anywhere else

    January 24, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  8. den

    Don't know that much about mosques- is that where they store the explosives?

    January 24, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  9. believer

    Hi, why don't some of the people on this blog go onto google and type in Coptic church, zeitun Egypt, 1968. See what happened there in 1968. It was all recorded.

    January 24, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  10. trubeliever

    Hi, why don't some of the people on this blog go onto google and type in Coptic Church, Zeitun Egypt, 1968. See what happened there in 1968- all caught on camera.

    January 24, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  11. grim reaper

    Instead of building mosques in this country we should be bulldozing them! every muslim in this country should be rounded up, and sent to re-education camps. islam is pure satanic crap, and should be treated as such.

    January 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      That is not how the US works as we are an open and free society!

      January 24, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  12. 2 Dads & 3 Kids

    As long as this Mosque is not near JFK, LaGuardia or Newark Liberty airports we should be O.K. Just ask the Russians.

    January 24, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  13. chuckmartel

    So much for the " all Jews are smart " stereotype. I thought the ADL were a bunch of screwballs but this shows they must be the worlds dumbest Jews. Do they know if the balance of military power were reversed in the mideast that there would not be an Israeli left. Religous people seem divorced from reality in general but the muslims are the crazies that blow people up every day, usually other muslims. By the way, catch the religion of peace in action today at Moscow? How about the pilgrimage in Iraq where a bunch of muslims blew up other muslims. Yeah, we need more of this.

    January 24, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  14. Muneef

    Well that is that whether you like it or not Reality the mosque is going to cure your sick heart....

    January 24, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • chuckmartel

      Can't wait until the day comes when you will be made to eat those words. We want no part of your islam islami animal and trying to force that filth on us will result in you eating your words.

      January 24, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Muneef

      They say man's enemies are Five:
      An infidel confronting him.
      A Satan misguiding him astray.
      A hypocrite despising him.
      A believer that envy's him.
      A soul conflicting him.
      May God protect and assist us on those five with which man can not find """"Peace on Earth nor Spray Love Around"""""

      January 29, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Muneef

      All those who are unhappy in the world
            are so as a result of 
                their desire for their own happiness.
      All those who are happy in the world
             are so as a result of 
                 their desire for the happiness of others.

      Shantideva

      All the violence, fear and suffering
          that exists in this world
             comes from grasping at "self".
      What use is this great monster to you?
          if you do not let go of the "self", 
             there will never be an end to your suffering.

      Shantidev

      January 29, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Muneef

      Al-Jinn sura 72:
      In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
      And the places of worship are only for Allah, so pray not unto anyone along with Allah. (18) And when the slave of Allah stood up in prayer to Him, they crowded on him, almost stifling. (19) Say (unto them, O Muhammad): I pray unto Allah only, and ascribe unto Him no partner. (20) Say: Lo! I control not hurt nor benefit for you. (21) Say: Lo! none can protect me from Allah, nor can I find any refuge beside Him (22) (Mine is) but conveyance (of the Truth) from Allah, and His messages; and whoso dis-obeyeth Allah and His messenger, lo! his is f-ire of h-ell, wherein such dwell for ever. (23) Till (the day) when they shall behold that which they are promised (they may doubt); but then they will know (for certain) who is weaker in al-lies and less in multi-tude. (24) Say (O Muhammad, unto the dis-believers): I know not whether that which ye are promised is nigh, or if my Lord hath set a distant term for it. (25) (He is) the Knower of the Unseen, and He revealeth unto none His secret, (26) Save unto every messenger whom He hath chosen, and then He maketh a gu-ard to go before him and a gu-ard behind him (27) That He may know that they have indeed conveyed the messages of their Lord. He surroundeth all their doings, and He keepeth count of all things. (28).

      January 29, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Muneef

      chuckmartel
      An-Nasr sura 110:
      In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
      When Allah's succour and the triumph cometh (1) And thou seest mankind entering the religion of Allah in troops, (2) Then hymn the praises of thy Lord, and seek forgiveness of Him. Lo! He is ever ready to show mercy. (3).

      January 29, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Muneef

      http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article27358.htm

      January 30, 2011 at 4:35 am |
  15. Rod Beaton

    OK, fine..

    If the Mosque gets built 2 blocks away from ground zero, where 2 planes hit.. 2 buildings with the moon in Gemini- 2 or more..
    Then we get to put at 2 Catholic Church's near the center of Mecca!

    So there, Fair is Fair!

    January 24, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Can one be protestant? Please? A good Assemblies of God type would turn that place upside down!

      January 24, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  16. its all about you

    if we had no muslims we would not need a mosque

    January 24, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Muneef

      If we had not population we would not need a city...?!

      January 24, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  17. cmiles

    James, I definitely agree there! Why should we HAVE to be the only religious tolerant country to other faiths if they don't go by the same principles.

    January 24, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  18. James

    The ADL whcih is predominantely jewish needs to gets its act together. Even though I respect the jewisg faith, they are a bunch of hypocrites. Why do they want mosques in the US when they will not let mosques be built in Israel. Therefore, they should first start by allowing third world people and also people of all faiths to immigrate to israel and build hindu temples, mosques, pagodas, and even temples dedicated to snakes and rats in Israel. Moreover, the muslim world too must allow many Christian churches to be bult in the arab worl.d Only when those things happen, then the US must allow the muslims to build their mosques. I find that jews are the biggest hypocrites and they need to be fair. So let them first allow arabs their rights in Israel and also let in pagans to immigrate and then let them fight for the rights of muslims and pagans in the US.

    January 24, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  19. cmiles

    It is different then mosques elsewhere in the world because at THIS site thousands of people were killed by the very religious ppl that want 2 "worship" at this site! Did u ever stop to think they might be trying 2 send a "call to arms" message to the rest of their followers? "Hey look what we did here, we killed thousands who opposed us & now we are worshiping at this site!" If its built there I think there will b more bloodshed because of it. That's not just emotional reasoning its logical reasoning.

    January 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  20. khusroy

    Occupation of Muslim lands with rich resources therein and using their corrupt leaders by the West to moneylaunder their wealth into the like of Swiss Banks are the main cause of unrest in these places. Remove the cause and there will be peace. Why would anyone want to blow himself up?

    January 24, 2011 at 5:24 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.