Two-thirds of New Yorkers, including some who support the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero, say leaders of the project should find a location further from the 9/11 crash site, according to a New York Times poll released this past week.
The solid majority that want the center to relocate to a less controversial site said so even though many of them (62 percent of respondents) believe developers of the Park51 project have a right to build it.
But New Yorkers, as a group, could not decide how far away from Ground Zero the mosque should move. Of those who responded, about 20 percent said more than 20 blocks away from ground zero, 18 percent said 10 to 20 blocks, and seven percent said five to ten blocks.
The NY Times poll, released Thursday, was based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 27-31 with 892 adults throughout New York City.
Its release follows a firestorm of protests from Park51 opponents, whose main argument is that it would be insensitive to the nearly 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to build a $100 million, 13-story Islamic cultural center and mosque just two blocks from Ground Zero.
But proponents of the plan argue it would stand as a testament of America's commitment to religious tolerance and help interfaith relations. Some supporters also contend allowing Park51 to be built would frustrate al Qaeda and other extremist groups from using the issue to recruit terrorists.
But as the new NY Times poll and others have shown, New York residents and Americans overall lean toward the critics of the project and object to building the Islamic center and mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center.
The surveys show that opponents of the project are not part of a small and vocal group, but that the majority of New Yorkers and Americans disagree with having an Islamic cultural center and mosque that close to Ground Zero.
Just two weeks ago, some 700 opponents of the project rallied against what they call the "Sharia mosque" at the corner of Park Place and West Broadway, near the site of the proposed Park51. During the public outcry, opponents shouted, "No Mosque," and sang, "God Bless America."
Protesters rejected the claim that Park51 would improve West-Muslim world relations. Instead, speakers pointed to the Quran and asked where tolerance is found in the Muslim holy book. Other who took the stage questioned where the funding for the $100 million center will come from.
The mosque "shouldn't be there – at least until the transparency surrounding the building's funding clears up and Americans know for certain that Sharia-compliant sources are not involved," said Tim Sumner, co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America, during the rally.
As opponents and supporters continue to engage in a tug-a-war for public support, it is clear from recent polls that New Yorkers are paying attention. The NY Times poll found that 66 percent of New York residents said they had heard or read a lot about the Park51 controversy, 20 percent said they have heard or read some, and only eight and five percent said not much or nothing at all, respectively.
Given the tension the project has built up in New York City and the nation, New York Gov. David Paterson has stepped in and offered to discuss with the developers of Partk51 the possibility of moving the center and mosque somewhere else in Lower Manhattan. The developers had expressed interest in discussing their options with Paterson.