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

Next entry »
soundoff (422 Responses)
  1. Have an Apple

    It is time that Religious organizations are taxed as what they are, corporations. It is shameful to see that churches earn hundreds of billions of dollars and hide this opulence in bonds, stocks and properties. They are all businesses and should be treated as such.

    January 25, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  2. mohamed

    Our prophet said "beware of our altars and their surroundings" it means dont be or pray on sinful soil there is no place more sinful than US

    January 25, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      Mohammed: Then, you are welcome to get your smelly behind out of the USA's soil and build your Islamic terrorist sleeper cell mosques in the God forsaken desert of your country.

      January 26, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  3. mohamed

    My brothers are not thinking right its all politics not religion if they were honest they should not build mosques in infidels territory its a shame infidels should be wiped out

    January 25, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  4. mohamed

    My brothers are not thinking right its all politics not religion if they were honest they should not build mosques in infidels territory its a shame

    January 25, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  5. mohamed

    I think its a sin to put a mosque in such a dirty
    And sinful country our prophet would not allow such thing

    January 25, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  6. vel

    it seems to come down to the ADL being a NIMBY (not in my back yard) when it comes to mosques. It's alright for them to exist, just not where we don't want them to. it's sad when the ADL can't seem to remember that Muslims died in 9/11 too, so much for their claims of being "so" concerned for the victims.

    January 25, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  7. Yaara

    I agree that the area around Ground Zero is holy ground. People like those responsible for 9/11 should, out of simple decency, stay out of the area. As it seems that everyone responsible for 9/11 was a man, I think it only reasonable that all men should stay out of New York City, away from the Pentagon, and away from Pennsylvania. Anyone with a Y chromosome who approaches those places is displaying bad taste at best and nefarious intent at worst.

    I hear there's a Big & Tall Men's clothing store even closer to Ground Zero than the proposed Islamic center is. Shame! Shame! Have they no decency?

    January 25, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  8. Name*alexander montanez

    the right to bill hasn't neer been my issue! But at the core of my beleifs I realize that to support a religion that only wishes the extermination of the western world and to be the only establish religion in this planet, I can't understand why some in the media don't relise that this is a "war" between religion that has gone on for over 1000 years! Their mission is to destroy us and its up to us to stop them. How do you think they will feel if we get planes n crash into mmecca or another big moss? They will never forget and neither should we!.....

    January 25, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  9. Michael Mills

    I find it funny that a right wing, fundemetalist Jew- hatin', black fearin, gay-bashin" preacher would scream about ANYTHING being "intolerant". Stupid hillbillies.

    January 25, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  10. universal.2

    religions and religious organizations can bring economic development and employment like other industries. religions to preach spirituality and morals are dying down based on scriptures, but are maintained by civil law and orders. religions can serve sprirituality/moral and economic properity as long as religions and oganizations stay spirituality and not become political, millitant. and fanatics.

    January 25, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  11. dj

    Bottom line,it is un-american to go against a people based on belief,when said orginization has not directly harmed anyone.its a belief that this country was founded on.

    January 25, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  12. yusef

    To be Muslim means to submit to the will of God or the Universe. To conduct yourself in a balanced manner just as the creation around you does. The Prophet never wern to war with Christians or Jews, they were his allies. Against the Pagan system in Mecca which was built only for financial gain. In which tribes were constantly warring. Even in Spain the Muslims Christians and Jews worked together to develop their philosophies. Thomas Aquinas was taught by a Muslim who happened to be the greatest Aristotilean scholar of his time. Division did not come until after the Crusades, when the Church was mislead as they emerged from the dark ages in search of wealth. Sadly now the Muslim world has become hell bent on returning the favor, but these ideas are political. Islam means peace, peace with oneself and the universe around and within him. There are plenty of women doctors and lawyers and scientist in Islam. Turn off the telivision and get to know us.

    January 25, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  13. yusef

    Wow, you guys really have no clue about Islam. The prophet respected other religions and even placed Mary and Jesus on a pedestal. Encouraging Muslims to discuss scripture with the "people of the book" or covenant, in order to better understand ourselves. The Prophet sent his followers to the Christians for protection from Meccans because he believed they were honest and upright. God is not some man on the moon, he is the ultimate reality which balances itself. Athiest know this power as energy, or life force, there is no disagreement between Islam and science or divisions and acts of terrorism are political actions for past grievances. Wake up people.

    January 25, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Buzzing

      Sure, and you do know they fly the banner, "death to all Jews and infidels!"

      January 25, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  14. Felicitations

    These forums re religion are always so tedious, because regardless of what the headline is it always ends up being a debate between believers v. non-believers. Those who believe, believe. Those who don't, don't. No amount of persuasion, snide and insulting comments on either side will change minds. If only people would merely read the article and comment on the article. But see, I've fallen into the same thing. Time to read a different article.

    January 25, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  15. BionicBub

    Christianity's history demonstrates clearly that it is just as intolerant as Islam. Christianity alone destroyed all of the Pagan religions - Greek and Roman - with the most horrible cruelty and destruction imaginable, which was a far cry from alleged persecutions the early Christians had received. The Pagans were extremely tolerant compared to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, yet it is extinct today.

    January 25, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  16. Natems

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

    Dear Editor, you mean "Nation's" correct?

    January 25, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  17. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    Regarding Fareed Zakaria returning the award from ADT that is no news at all. Mr. Zakaria has been on a CRUSADE to SELL ISLAM BY MAKING IT PALATBLE TO GULLIBLE AMERICANS!


    a) FIRSTLY call for EXPUNGING all the hateful teachings in HIS holy Koran (without any pre-conditions or trying to explain those in some other context of which there is none). And DEMAND that Muslims be allowed to QUESTION ISLAMIC TEXTS while guaranteeing PROTECTION for such people by the entire Muslim community.

    b) Call for ALL MOSQUES (just as Churches, temples, synagogues etc. already are!) in America to let federal/state security agencies MONITOR them for anti-state activities (knowing fully well that by FBI’s own estimates over 80% of American Mosques preach some form of religious hatred).

    c) In line with Americans RIGHT TO EXERCISE THEIR RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS firstly DEMAND that MUSLIMS TO OPT-OUT OF THEIR RELIGION, and also CALL for letting proponents of other faiths to propogate their religion near Mosques and Islamic organizations just as the Muslims do near churches, temples, synagogues.

    d) Urge all Muslims to CONDEMN TERROR UNEQUIVOCALLY w/o linking them to US actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

    e) DIS-ASSOCIATE HIS PLOY of linking Muslim backwardness with TERROR and urging already SUFFERING AMERICANS to contribute more for TERRORIST MUSLIM nations like PAKISTAN & others, who are in real sense way better off than desperate black African countries and Haiti, but still see absolutely NO RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM!

    f) STOP HIS SPIN to show Muslims are indeed giving up terrorists hiding among them by citing examples such as the father of the Nigerian bomber who approached the FBI for help ONLY AFTER his son had made a MARTYRDOM TAPE knowing fully that THE ONE & ONLY ALTERNATIVE to see his son alive was to get him arrested. And also the case of the NJ gas station owner who PERPORTEDLY showed the compassionate side of Islam by giving him a few bucks, & DELIBERATELY DISREGARDING the fact that in the process he also LURED HIM INTO HIS ISLAMIC FOLD!!!!

    I am NOT sure Mr. Zakaria is either CAPABLE or WILLING to do this much against his faith!


    January 25, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      It should not be a surprise if Fareed Zakaria were an Islamic agent
      infiltarted in CNN from its sister network Al Jazeera to "sugar coat" Islam in order to make it sound as if it were a peaceful religion when it is a deadly delaration of war against the USA, Isarel and all those whom they call "infidels," which is the rest of the non Muslim population.

      January 29, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  18. Elza

    Please read this..
    Its how some countries act

    January 25, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Muneef

      They will not give it much space here because it was not a Muslim who killed the priest, but if was a Muslim who did that it was going to go reaching every media... I liked this bit from your link;


      Well as it seems today are all against Muslims but if Muslims move or any thing happen to them in the USA the racists acts will come back to take all color by color one after another...it will be as our Indian friend mentioned above about Austrlian thugs...?! No wonder their continent is drowning flooded and will remain this way until the land is washed of ill evils.

      January 29, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  19. gamerk2

    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.


    I always LOVE this one. Besides the fact its replacing a mosque thats even CLOSER to ground zero, besides the fact it has only one prayer room [its an interfaith center, not a mosque], and despite the fact many muslims died in the WTC attack, the opponents play the "Its too close" card. Its a viel for bigotry, nothing more and nothing less.

    January 25, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  20. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    Americans have a MAJOR POINT that ISLAM AT ITS ROOT PREACHES INTOLERANCE which is CONTRARY to AMERICAN VALUES OF FREEDOM. Logically, that alone should be an OVERRIDING FACTOR for opposing any Mosque anywhere in America.
    Secondly, Americans also have a major issue about the SIZE of these MEGA MOSQUES when the local Muslim community is TINY, and thirdly the SOURCE OF FUNDS which most Americans rightfully fear is often times from Saudi & other questionable sources (with a soft public face to decieve Americans). Unless all these points are deteremined it's better the ADT keeps off this issue. Also, the ADT must remember that IRRESPECTIVE of their support, there 's NO MUSLIM organization willing to support the Jewish cause.
    Even in my former homeland India Mosques are spring up like WEEDS in every village even where there are only a few Muslim families. Nobody has the GUTS to question the source of funds.



    January 25, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Amit-Atlanta-USA

      I wished to say:


      Second the DISSPROPRTIONATE SIZE of these MEGA MOSQUES most Americans fear to be clearly designed to INTIMIDATE and NOT borne out true needs.


      January 25, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Malang

      Please read and be informed before you preach hatred. A quick background can be seen in movie "messenger" in which Anthony Quinn played Humza.

      Mohammad never fought a battle unless attacked. He always preached forgiveness, released/freed slaves, stopped the people from burying their infant daughters, gave code of conduct during war, gave inheritance rights to women, orphans. Gave laws to protect minority religions. He and Quran specifically prohibitted sucide and killing of innocent and non combatants. The list will go on. People pick and choose from the Quran and than make accusations. A lot can be said about the Christianity in Europe during middle ages. Can we even begin to talk about those atrocities? Lets be honest. Read and learn first than start to make fair discussions. Certain muslims however have mis used the religion for their wrongful motives.

      January 25, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Muneef

      Find what you need to know here please;


      January 29, 2011 at 11:51 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Next entry »
About this blog

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.