A conservative group is preparing legal action to challenge a vote on Tuesday that cleared the way for a mosque to be built near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"It has been clear from the beginning that the city has engaged in a rush to push this project through-ignoring proper procedure and ignoring a growing number of New Yorkers and other Americans who don't believe this site is the place to build a mosque," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice. "We're poised to file legal action on behalf of our client to challenge this flawed decision and put a stop to this project."
The ACLJ is representing New York City firefighter Timothy Brown, a first responder who survived the 2001 terrorist attacks but lost nearly 100 friends. It is planning to file a petition in state court alleging that there has been an abuse of discretion in the Landmarks Preservation Commission's decision.
The city commission voted 9-0 Tuesday to deny landmark status to a building on Park Place that a Muslim group wants to convert into a mosque and Islamic community center. Landmark status would have made it difficult for the group to build the center there.
Thousands have protested the proposed "mega mosque," arguing that an Islamic center just two blocks away from Ground Zero is insensitive and insulting to the families of the 9/11 victims.
Though the Cordoba Initiative, the group behind the $100 million project, says the purpose of building the mosque and center is to promote integration and tolerance and to improve Muslim-West relations, opponents say the project would mark a victory for those who sought to terrorize the American people.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the project in a speech shortly after the commission's vote.
Calling it an important test of the separation of church and state, Bloomberg said they would be untrue to who they are as New Yorkers and as Americans if they said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.
"Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion?" he posed on Governors Island with the Statue of Liberty in full sight. "That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here."
"With or without landmark designation," he added, "there's nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building. This building is private property and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship. The government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution."
One Texas evangelical has expressed support for the controversial project.
Pastor Bob Roberts of Northwood Church in Keller stressed, "What we do here impacts what we are allowed to do around the globe."
He said he has visited with many Islamic leaders around the world who believes that religious freedom should exist in every country – something they cannot say publicly – and for the U.S. not to extend religious freedom to everyone would be a backward step.
"Now is not the time for us to reverse over 200 years of America's tradition of religious freedom – the consequences not just for us, but the world, would be dire."
Others, meanwhile, are troubled by the project and have questioned the Muslim group's motive.
Nearly 26,000 people have signed an online petition on the ACLJ website, declaring "no mosque at Ground Zero."
The petition claims that the mosque is financially backed by an investor with reported ties to terrorism.
"[R]eports indicate that Imam Rauf was one of the key financiers of the Gaza-bound flotilla that recently carried terrorists determined to attack Israel!" the petition states.
"As radical Islam continues its bold and deadly march to erase freedom from the face of the earth, we must determine who we will honor: America's fallen 9/11 victims or the terrorists who attacked them?"